The Posture of Worship

The posture of worship for the strong is on their knees or standing, hands raised towards heaven while singing with all their hearts and might. There maybe exuberant clapping, dancing, and jumping, depending on the music, or trembling and crying in the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. I have yet to experience these. Most of the time, I find myself in a prone position while I do my best to focus on breathing well, which is often hard, while the Jesus Finest Generation Choir sings during worship service. It’s been mostly like that these past more than 13 years. I cannot count the times I had marveled at how my difficult circumstances hardly ever changes. I look at the singers on the riser and wonder how different my situation is from them. How vastly different! And it pains me to think why it has always been so for many years now.

"We love Him because He first loved us."

If you have been in my blog orbit these past more than 5 years, you know how I have struggled against the hardships my sickness and suffering brings and all the emotional, mental, and spiritual turmoil I go through. And though I always write about my embattled faith still standing strong through it all, it felt like my relationship with God was fraying around the edges, like it couldn’t be entirely, seamlessly, flawlessly whole while I wrestled with the many important issues in my faith life. There were the struggles against envy, self-pity, bitterness, resentment, discouragement, numbness, hurts and pains, deep longings, sadness, anger, fear, cynicism, coldness, and silent rebellion in the heart. Whew!

There were the starings into empty space with empty mind and numb heart, wishing that the blankness would swallow up all the seemingly endless suffering. And it would suddenly be all over.

But recently, the Lord called me into His rest, His holy presence, not through a powerful, Spirit-filled worship, but through gentle whispers in my heart.

A lot has happened internally since then. And though my sickness and suffering has yet to relent, I realized that I was being transformed deep inside. There had been many “refining processes” before. I call them fiery trials and through them, a lot of changes have happened in me. But through the years with no complete healing in sight, I had continued to wrestle with God, much like Jacob did.

This time, God has revealed to me the posture of worship. It is not always standing and singing.

It is not always an abandoned praise where you give all that is within you. It is all that you are. Even when you’re not singing or praising. It is who you are during the times that you cannot rise to sing and lift up your hands.

The posture of worship even in the most difficult times is humility, deep gratitude, and unquestioning faith. The highest worship we could give God is our faith even when it feels like we’ve been thrown into the fiery furnace lit seven times stronger and that it spins like a dryer. (In a cement manufacturing plant, you will see a giant revolving kiln, its height could take up two floors. This is where limestone and other materials are melted to make cement. You will see the product coming out of the kiln like red, liquid fire. The surrounding area is so hot).

Even so, but to still believe in Him and trust Him. To still draw closer to Him and believe that He is good, gracious, and plenteous in mercy. To never doubt that ever again.

To spurn the thoughts swirling in our minds that He is a severe God, that He doesn’t listen to our most fervent prayers. That maybe He’s not fair? That He loves us less than the others? For “Jacob He has loved, but Esau He has hated” (Rom. 9:13), right?

But we don’t embrace these. We cast them out from us. Because we are those children who love their Father, who want to keep on loving Him. Forever. For only in this we become strong. Only in this we are happy – truly, spiritually happy.

everlasting love

My painting of last year. (Please excuse my terrible brush lettering).

So we love Him, for doesn’t the Bible say that we do because He first did it? “We love Him because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). And this love didn’t only start 2000 years ago. It is from everlasting. He has loved us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). (I always want to remember this). So, even in our very difficult suffering, in our very hard places, we will love Him (crying).

We will love Him even through the blinding rain of our tears.

We will love Him because we know. We know the Truth, We know His Word. To love Him is to trust Him. No fight left in us. It is just a willing surrender. A trusting surrender. A loving surrender. That is the posture of worship.

No defiance, no bitterness, no resentment, no numbness, no hardheartedness. Just joyfully loving Him. Like a child who adores and clings to her father.

How can that even be possible when you’re battered by sickness and suffering, buffeted by diverse trials? And He, who alone can take us out of them, seems to be not moving a finger? And why ever not? All things are possible with Him, in Him, through Him, and for Him.

Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23)

I love that.

So, I need not envy others. In Christ I am complete. That is the simple truth. If I believe otherwise, I have listened to the devil’s lie. The Lord Jesus did not only die to save me, He also resurrected so I, too, will live forevermore.

So, we do not only worship the Healer because we’re desperate for healing. We worship because that’s how we’ve been wired. We are created to worship Him. This is the meaning of worshiping in spirit and in truth. We worship even through trials and tribulations, for we do not worship only because of our circumstances, but in His truth. The truth that remains unchanged forever. We worship in that truth. And in the spirit, where the love sowed by the Holy Spirit is connected to its Creator.

The posture of worship will always be on our knees, literally and figuratively.

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Rest

Rest is good. But for many of us including myself, we want to avoid it as much as possible and as long as we can hold out. That is, until we are burned out. Or until we hear the voice of the Lord calling, inviting us to His presence where we can find rest and peace for our souls. For the strong who move about in the world “spinning yarn into gold” day and night, they may find rest in their plush hotel rooms as exhaustion catches up with them. What they have is physical rest which their bodies so badly need.

AT THE CENTER. My unfinished strawberry painting. I am dismayed that, after examining my heart, this project indeed bears my fingerprints and not the Lord Jesus'. It's a deep-in-the-heart thing I need not divulge :( .

AT THE CENTER. My unfinished strawberry painting. Although the name was inspired by one of my favorite praise songs,”Jesus at the Center”, I am dismayed that, after examining my heart, this project indeed bears my fingerprints and not the Lord Jesus’. It’s a deep-in-the-heart thing I need not divulge :( . Who or what is at the center of your life?

The owner of a large Japanese cosmetic ingredients manufacturer who is a supplier of our own company for the past two decades recently visited Manila. Before his trip here, he passed through China, his days dotted with business meetings. When Felix my husband met him, this ageing businessman looked so tired and haggard he was ready to drop. He recounted to Felix his many appointments before and after his visit to our country. He is so busy and always on-the-go that he got confused with which airlines he was flying in until Felix offered his assistance.

This man may squeeze in rest in-between his wildly busy schedule, but it will just be a physical rest, a few hours of sleep wherein his body ceases to do any activity. But at every waking moment, the mind zooms in automatically on the day’s agenda.

I believe that true rest is free of worries, fears, and anxieties. That the waking moments are sweet, to be relished and not to be dreaded.

True rest is finding a place where our bodies, minds, and hearts can settle in peace and comfort. I believe that it is in this kind of rest that our bodies produce and multiply healthy cells and we recover.

We know that, but often, we forget. I do.

Two weeks ago, about the time I was supposed to write for my weekly blogpost, I had already planned on a topic. But as I collected the thoughts in my mind, it felt like the cup wasn’t filling up. It remained empty. That was my cup. I was running on empty and the Lord wanted me to see that.

I cannot write about what I do not have. I cannot give away what myself is lacking and needing, because it isn’t even there.

Simply put, I cannot give what I haven’t received.

So, I decided to pass the week without a blogpost. I needed a writing holiday. It wasn’t about the writing per se, it was about being filled up so I have something to pour out.

I needed rest – my mind, my heart, and most of all, my body. I posted an unfinished strawberry painting project on IG and informed everyone that there wouldn’t be a new blogpost on that week.

It was very clear that the Lord was inviting me to rest. His rest. And I couldn’t deny anymore the fact that my weak and ailing body was crying out for it.

Rest is God’s gift to His children. Rest is His grace. Rest is His mercy. (For we could be so stubborn sometimes, ignoring the rhythms of our bodies and being cruel to them). To enter into His rest every now and then is an standing invitation. All we need to do is drop everything and enter in.

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Mat. 11:28-30)

These words of the Lord Jesus Christ show how compassionate He is toward us – the weary, the burnt out, the suffering, the stooped-down.

Why do we keep on spinning until we succumb to exhaustion, endlessly doing and performing and achieving and reaching and striving? No matter how much we deny it, we keep on doing because we want to leave a mark. We want our lives to matter. And I believe that is not a bad thing. But I also believe that our performances matter less to God than our deep desire to commune with Him and revel in His presence.

And maybe, we also unintentionally offend God when we work so hard to show to the world a stellar work, claiming it’s for God’s glory, but in reality, our marks and fingerprints are all over the place. We may not realize it but He knows our hearts more than we do. Our work should bear His marks and fingerprints. 

So, I entered into God’s rest and did my best to keep still and be not distracted by the world. It’s easier to do that when there is physical suffering involved. But entering into His rest also requires our humbling down and heartfelt confessing and repenting, if we know there are reasons to, like when we have made a god of our work or something. It is only when peace descends upon us that we can settle in His rest. And even if there is suffering, His unfailing love, His peace and comfort, will steady our hearts.

This is the reason why my heart grieves for those people who have not really known, received, and loved the Lord Jesus Christ and yet, still refuse Him in their sickbeds. I don’t understand. They want to be healed but they do not want to receive the Healer. They do not want to enter into His kind of holy rest. Is it maybe because they do not believe in the first place? Or they think they have been good they don’t need saving? Or they do not have enough divine fear? Or maybe mostly because they haven’t known and understood and didn’t hear enough? Seek enough?

But how can a fragile human being whose life is just a vapour which appears for a little time, and then vanishes away (see James 4:14) afford to refuse Him? How can a sick person find rest without the Lord Jesus’ presence, His love and peace? For all our hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ.

But this thing I learned: we shouldn’t give up in offering God’s rest – His salvation – over and over until we are heard and He is received. For in the Lord Jesus, there is rest from our labors, ailments, and sufferings.

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Faith Unfailing

On the eve of writing this blogpost, another one of those super unwanted, agonizingly hard suffering attacks gripped me. Actually, the second one on that day. These attacks, at their ugliest peak, would drive me reeling in a swirl of emotions: fear, angst, uncertainty, weariness, and even anger. Not to mention the sheer physical hardship my body is subjected to in the first place. It would try to snuff out my peace, joy, faith, and hope. Being at the heart of that hard place is like dangling over a deep canyon. It’s cruel; it’s punishing. It is superlatively rejected.

COUNTRY LANE on 9" x 12" wc paper.

COUNTRY LANE on 9″ x 12″ wc paper by yours truly.

This is the kind of test my faith puts up against. Every day. Every week. Every month. Every year. These past more than 13 years.

I need a faith that never fails. Only by the grace of God.

That is why, at the heart of every suffering, I have prepared a Word capsule and I do my best to recite it even just once during those moments when I feel like going through a needle’s eye. It is this:

I will live. I will not die. The Lord will satisfy me with long life. According to my faith, it will be done unto me. I will not fear but only believe.

The key words are: according to my faith. 

I know that there is a lot of suffering in the world: persecution, harassment, abuse, hunger, sickness. I am sure that mine is not unique or that, among the suffering, I got the worst. I do not believe so. That is why, the common enemy of faith is this question: What makes one think that one could be healed or delivered when so many in the world, including Christians, are suffering and dying without receiving healing or being delivered from their plight?

What makes me think that among the millions who are suffering – men, women, and children – I would receive healing from the Lord Jesus Christ and be delivered from all my suffering, and be sent to testify and proclaim the gospel? What, indeed?

It is this: According to my faith, it will be done unto me.  

It is the echo of the Lord’s own words.

And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him. And Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”

They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.”

Then He touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith let it be to you.” (Mat. 9:28-29, emphasis added)

 I believe that He is able to do it.

According to my faith, it will be to me.

I am not helpless. I have a choice. I can choose one thing and the Lord will honor it. 

I choose to believe and trust. I choose faith.

 You see, hope, for me, is looking forward toward a certain destination in the future, that there is a bright tomorrow that awaits even if now there is only dimness and hardship. Hope, certainly, is the anchor of my soul, sure and steadfast (Heb. 6:19). (I wrote about hope in early January). When, at some point, all else fails, hope clings on.

But faith is the fuel that drives every single day to move toward that destination.

Oftentimes for me, hope seems so far away, somewhere in the far horizon shrouded in a thick mist so that I can barely see it’s there.

But faith is ever-present. It is believing here, now, where we’re at.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb. 11:1)

Faith is an action word. It takes action. It believes, trusts, makes the first step, and the next. It is at the heart of faith that the Lord Jesus moves. It is faith that pries His hand out of His bosom and stretches it to heal. Faith is His native language, His music. He dances to it.

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Heb. 11:6)

If we listen to other voices in our mind, those self-defeating thoughts, faith cannot work mightily on our behalf. Faith, to work, must be founded on a purely single-minded disposition that believes God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. We need not believe that the fate of another will be our fate, too. But we can and will believe that the miracle of another can be ours, too. That is faith. That is the purpose of testimonies. To believe in testimonies is to believe in God and His Word.

The Lord Jesus did not perform many miracles in His own hometown because of their unbelief. Unbeliefs and doubts tie down His hands. 

Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief… (Mark 6:5-6)

He can do no mighty work when we doubt or not believe Him! That is why He was adamant when He told Jairus, “Be not afraid, only believe.” (See Mark 5:21-43).

But look how He reacted to the Canaanite woman who begged Him to heal her daughter, even after being told, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.” That hurts! But the distraught mother was unfazed. When she expressed her willingness to eat of the crumbs that fall from the master’s table, the Lord Jesus marvelled at her faith! He answered her:

“O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt!” (Mat. 15:28, exclamation point added for emphasis)

And her daughter was healed in that very same hour.

Many times, I had been that Canaanite mother in my desperation. It doesn’t matter if I was a dog licking the crumbs that fall from the table. I will do it to get well for the sake of my children.

Be it unto me even as I will or desire.

What do you desire the Lord Jesus to do for you? He is asking. He asked the blind man, the blind man did not hesitate to answer.

So Jesus answered and said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?”

The blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.” (Mark 10:51)

My faith has received too many beatings than I can count. It bears the scars of years of unrelenting trials and tests, of battles fought and won, only by the great mercies of God. But I thank my Savior Jesus Christ that it is still standing, sure and steadfast, to this day. For it is founded upon the Rock.

Dear readers, I have a wonderful gift for you: I wrote about the amazing testimony of Brother Michael Garcia, a poor, blind man who was called by the Lord from the pit of darkness and despair. Please click here to read the entire testimony.

Do not fear. Only believe.

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Live Graciously

I admit I am still new to living graciously intentionally. It came on the heels of the Lord’s whisper some weeks ago when, as usual, I had to process my emotions and thoughts to figure out how to react to a hurtful comment or abrasive attitude. Sometimes, our default might be to feel resentful or to contend. Or keep silent and try to search for a Christian reaction or a Biblical one. As we simmer in silent anger or hurt, as the case maybe, we are also aware that the Lord knows the state of our hearts and minds. And although we may try to convince ourselves to choose the way of patience and forbearance, such frequent vexations could pile up and grow into something that could harden our hearts.

GRACE

One day not too long ago, I found myself in such a situation. I was thinking, “It can’t always be like this, me, curbing my temper just to maintain peace.” I thought that there shouldn’t be an internal struggle every time, that the mere act of forbearing should not also trigger feelings of resentment or disappointment. The act of forgiveness that we want to happen in our hearts should truly bring peace in there.

Then it came. Written across the space where I was trying to weigh in whether to fully forgive or harbor hurt or entertain a little of both were the words: Live graciously. Then the soft whisper: You have learned to live in My grace, now, learn to live graciously. 

Live graciously.

That’s it! That’s the answer to our dillydallying hearts, when, even in our act of forgiving, we still want to harbor hurts or resentment. Live graciously intentionally. To choose grace every single time. And when we remember grace, and know that we’re doing grace because the Lord Jesus did if first, it all becomes easy. Graciousness doesn’t carry with it a single molecule of unforgiveness or ill will. That is the Lord Jesus’ graciousness and it never gets tarnished.

So, with the whisper, “Live graciously,” my heart exhaled all the impure air and settled in grace. Grace received, grace given away. The practice of giving grace away abundantly just as we continually receive it much the same way settles the disquiet in our hearts. It is a form of worship. When we let that sink in our minds, we know that we are doing a most excellent thing and won’t be resentful about it.

We cannot give away what we have not received ourselves. But we do receive it every single day, in measures beyond what we truly deserve. 

I have somewhat a pretty, good idea what gracious means. And before this writing, I had collected them in my mind as my heart understood it. But I’d like to share the list of synonyms I had gathered from my online search.

Gracious is merciful, compassionate, kind, forgiving, clement, forbearing, tenderhearted, sympathetic, benevolent, generous.

Wow. Don’t you want to be all of those and more? I know I do.

So, we push away all traces of selfishness and choose to be gracious. It’s a beautiful thing. 

It’s grace that changes us. Grace flows from the cross of Christ. The same flows from our surrendered lives, arms wide open in surrender to receive. And to give away. It is only in this posture does grace flow. 

Grace is another facet of love. In most cases, it is the gateway to love. And vice versa. For it is for love that grace flowed in Calvary without measure.

…But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more. (Rom. 5:20)

Living graciously, though at times it’s hard to do, is living beautifully. It’s the only good and beautiful way to live. For we cannot love without giving grace.

Living graciously is to not harbor ill feelings or speak ill of our neighbor even if they do towards us. And who is our neighbor? The other person. Our natural tendency is to contend when hurt or when we want to be proven right. But the Bible says to maintain lowliness of mind (humility):

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. (Phil. 2:3)

Meek and lowly. That is Christlikeness.

When we choose to act on our emotions (oftentimes pride) instead of listening to the Holy Spirit, we walk after the flesh and not after the Spirit. But we are in Christ Jesus.

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Rom. 8:1)

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Whole Again

I love You, O Lord, my strength

I love You, O Lord, my strong high tower

Where else can I run?

Where else can I hide away?

Whole Again

So my heart has been singing lately. Gigantic exhale. What a relief, what a joy as my Lord and Savior King folded me back into His exhilarating love! As I struggled to fix what was ailing my heart and spirit, He waited patiently. He gave me room. He is so gracious (and gentlemanly) like that. My grappling culminated last Friday overnight worship service when a song offered by a group of beloved adult sisters gripped me and I sobbed and sobbed in surrender. For quite a long time, I had been doing my best to hold it all in, and although I had been asking the Lord for mercy and help, I realized that night that I wasn’t really relinquishing everything. There was still that insistence to hold onto sorrow (and all other negative emotions akin to it) due to unmet longings and unanswered prayers.

But that night, and after fasting from Facebook for many days (which, I’m glad to tell you, has been like a soothing balm), the Lord made me realize how miserable I had let myself become. Yes, miserable, poor, needy, pitiful. But I was glad that He made me realize the fullness of it and led me to Himself and the truth that only He can do something for me. Not the world. Not the things I see that make me feel miserable in the first place.

That night, it was an altogether surrender all over again to His mercy, love, and sovereignty. And to what He offers.

Oh, I sobbed unabashedly as the ladies sang. I could be that and more before Him. So hungry, so in need of Him. I raised my hands and sobbed, “Remember me, my Lord.” I am sure I cried out many other soul-deep supplications, but suffice it to say now that He let me see my hapless state, and again, reminded me of His words as at the last:

I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. (Rev. 3:18)

But even before that night, I was gradually recovering emotionally and spiritually as I stepped up my spiritual life, shunning Facebook and the world in general, and writing on my prayer journal more fervently, inviting the Lord on and between the pages of it as I communed with Him. Throughout the day, I would whisper a prayer or a praise or a word of thanks. As I turned more inwardly, towards myself and our own home and life, I became stronger spiritually everyday. Hallelujah!

I am now slowly assimilating the fact that, immersing my senses in the world and its wiles had made me “scattered”. That is, my thoughts, emotions, desires, and decisions had gone quite awry (imagine charged particles or substances not in equilibrium, but then, that’s Chemistry 😀 ) when they should have been united – WHOLE – if only I’d focused on Jesus and the things of God alone. So lately, I have been whispering a prayer: “Draw me ever nearer to You, Lord Jesus. For only near You I am healed and whole and holy.”

I had let the things I see in this world (mostly through FB since I can’t go out) influence my mindset and affections that should have been otherwise entirely influenced by the Lord Jesus and His words and truth through His Holy Spirit. There is an entirely different “world” from the one we see physically or virtually, and we can easily miss it if we do not intentionally turn our eyes from the ones we’re used to seeing or love seeing and diligently seek it. This another “world” is the kingdom of God on earth where we can see signs, wonders, and miracles.

But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Mat. 12:28, emphasis added)

Looking at the world may stir up grievances instead of pure thanksgiving to God. It is then that we compare and see what we lack and feel discontented and begin to complain.

It is this deceitfulness of the world that the Lord has warned us about.

“…the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” (Mark. 4:19)

It is this desire for other things that sways our heads and hearts into the direction they should not take. But as I peeled off my eyes of the world and looked straight ahead, I saw the things of God – His wonders and miracles.

She is a mother of six. Her husband, who was addicted to drugs, abandoned them. She had to rear her children on her own and she was not wealthy. Actually, she was dirt poor. But she was resolute to care for her 6 children: feed, clothe, and send them to school no matter what. No matter if she picked up garbage which she did. She worked night and day with her bare hands. She worked, not minding the stark hardship of it all. If you heard her testify and say, “Life. Was. Very. Hard.”, you would know and understand the hardship she went through.

He was a construction worker before he became totally blind. He is an orphan and his remaining family and relations abandoned him. He was blind and so alone. He couldn’t work anymore. He lived in a wooden cart. Many days would go without him tasting any food and lived only by water. He was hungry, thirsty, cold, and so lonely. One day he cried out toward heaven for God to take his life and end his suffering. He said, “So, I won’t feel this pain in my heart anymore.” 

As I listened to these testimonies in the past days, I realized that I had been looking the wrong way. This here is where the eyes of God are trained on. This here is true life, kingdom life where God works and His heartbeat is felt and heard.

As I teetered on sulk and feeling faint, the Lord waited patiently. When I finally came to wisdom, He met me with an abundance of His grace.

He anointed my eyes with eye salve and I am again truly seeing. And I was healed. Spiritually. Whole again.

The mother of 6 has now a schoolteacher, some are in college, some are in high school. And her husband has come to Jesus and He restored their family.

The poor blind man received the Lord Jesus. After a few months of diligently attending services, He could see. Now, many others are being saved because of his testimony.

(The testimonies I shared here are from our church, JESUS MIRACLE CRUSADE INTERNATIONAL MINISTRY. The man who used to be blind is our beloved Bro.Michael Garcia).

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Poor in Spirit

For days I put my heart under scrutiny, an in-depth heart examination as I tried to search for the reason of my sadness. For even though I determined to go back to the first and great commandment and try to forget the more than 13 years that I had not received my healing, and start afresh, I could’t feel the spark. I went through my days going through the motions, the very thing I’d said I wanted to avoid. I couldn’t get myself to fully rejoice in the Lord, although I continued to do the things of God diligently as before – praying, Bible reading and journaling, praising (if I could), writing on my prayer journal, and painting flowers with a verse written in metallic gold paint – all to bring honor to Him. Still, my spirit groped.

YELLOW BLOOMS on my Monologue journal. I love painting on my journal and using metallic gold paint for Bible verse.

YELLOW BLOOMS on my Monologue journal. I love painting on my journal and using metallic gold paint for Bible verse.

I asked myself: What am I harboring in my heart?

Is it a silent rebellion that has its roots in resentful feelings?

Is it a silent, insidious sulk that is hardly remediable except the Lord do something about it?

Is it a combination of weariness and sorrow that cannot be soothed?

Is it bitterness that is hard to scour and dislodge?

Or, a defiant cynicism that is the beginning of my undoing?

I knew that it couldn’t be only all those things without it having any redeemable qualities. I discerned that my soul was longing for something more, besides my healing, something that is beyond my heart’s known desires (some of these desires, when put under the Savior’s penetrating light, are really not necessary in kingdom work). I guess I’m longing to see and live differently, far from the reach of the world’s standards.

I confess I’m weary of the world and the things it does to my heart and mind. It influences me in such a way that my mindset and affections are partly shaped by it. I’m getting weary envying and coveting and being plunged into the abyss of dismay and discouragement. Or numbness. That is, envying and coveting NOT other people’s goods, but other people’s lives – their health and strength, the places they go, things they are able to do and enjoy.

But please don’t get me wrong. I do not wish to see Las Vegas or Hollywood or other plush places most people wish to see. I wouldn’t long so deeply just for those, no. No, no, no. I just want to get well and get out and get away for a while. I want to be healed and be used by the Lord according to His purposes and plans. I want to live and experience the thrill of that kind of life. So alive and meaningful!

But as I wait and be ill still and suffer, I remain vulnerable to these unprofitable emotions which I hate to mention again.

And so, I arrived at a conclusion: I have not gone cold and backsliding, I am just poor in spirit. For years I have been poor in spirit, even as I learned to live and walk in full faith, pray as a child of God should, read the Bible diligently, praise and worship, and write about God’s story. Because of my longtime sickness and suffering that always threatens to steal my life, my future and joy, I have always been at the complete mercy of God – poor, needy, dependent, hungry, thirsty, desperate. And even as I am weak enough as to let the world subject me into a whirl of emotions that doesn’t help or add to my stature, I am the more poor in spirit.

I am the more in need of help. God’s help. In need of wholeness, wholeness that only the Lord Jesus can give.

I saw my true poverty for even as my illnesses oppress me, so I have let the world oppress me also by desiring to have a piece and taste of it, even for that harmless part of it: travels and vacations, dates with the husband, playdates with the kids, and more. Those are not sinful desires, I know. They are just normal desires that a wife and mother cherishes. But I have let their absence in my life and my deep longing for them steal my joy and my zeal for my Lord nonetheless.

The good part is, I have come to know how poor I am and how I need my Savior even more so.

I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. (Rev. 3:18)

Refined gold. Our true wealth is in the Lord Jesus Christ.

White garments. He will clothe us with wholeness.

Anointing. That we may see.

I want to be truly rich, whole, and seeing, so there is a need for a change of heart and mind.

Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord… (part of 2 Cor. 8:17). And so I have made some practical changes that I knew would greatly help. One of those is to not live in and through Facebook. Most of my heartaches have come from that bittersweet place. Sadly, there are things I see there that make the heart heavy, doubt, and even grow cold and can make one stumble in his/her faith walk. But I need it also to share my blogposts or my art to those who want to have a piece of it. So, I only go there now when it’s really necessary.

The good things, really good things, are the ones you rarely see on your FB newsfeed: praying and fasting believers, workers visiting the sick and bringing the Gospel of salvation to places others would not dare to go. Of the saints of God weeping in worship, in poverty, in hardship. People of God who are poor in spirit: dependent on and hungry for God everyday of their lives.

No, you won’t see them on FB, but it would be a great blessing to be serving alongside them.

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Mat. 5:3)

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Going Back to the First and Greatest Commandment

Yes, because, to go straight to the heart of the matter, that is the whole purpose of our existence. Are we created to exist for ourselves, follow our own desires, build our own “empires” and reign in them like kings and queens? We can try them all for a time, but sooner or later, we will realize that apart from God, we can do nothing. Or fall upon Mark 8:36 and it’s too late:

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

Even those who are already in Him but have grown or are growing cold and cynical (or doubtful, bitter, and resentful), perhaps because of the diverse trials that seem to cling like barnacles to a rock – they need this, too.

FIRST AND GREAT COMMANDMENT. This was just a quick sketch and wash on my Monologue journal but I'm quite happy.

FIRST AND GREAT COMMANDMENT. This was just a quick sketch and wash on my Monologue journal but I’m quite happy.

At the start of the year, I wrote about hope when I was grappling for inspiration and courage to face yet another year, still with the hardships of my illnesses hounding me. A week after that, I wrote about the way of being filled up with joy, as a glimmer of light and hope and a bright future seemed to dawn on my horizon. Even if only spiritually. For now.

As the week stretched to another week, love and surrender beckoned me. I so much want to shed off the weariness, the humdrum rhythm of my days and heart. I would do anything just to break it off. I want to challenge myself and coax it out of its tired stupor, as in sick and tired stupor (pun intended), and be greatly expectant of life and God’s miracles once again. For I believe there is no other way to live life than that.

So, how do we love God above all things, with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our souls? Do we even know how to, really know? Oh, I know of many people who do. Their lives are spelled L-O-V-E and S-A-C-R-I-F-I-C-E. They don’t live for pleasures. They don’t even think about them secretly in their hearts. Their joy is to be at the feet of Jesus many hours everyday, praising, worshiping, praying, fasting. Or trekking valleys and mountains, looking for the lost soul, holes in their tattered shoes or sandals. Yet, that’s their greatest joy and contentment. Yes, I have heard stories like these in our Church, especially those who come from the remotest parts of the provinces, where walking with their own two feet are the only available, or affordable, mode of transportation. These are those who you will never see sporting anything on your FB newsfeed. God bless them!

Then there are those who are fully blessed – spiritually, physically, materially – that they leap in joy and shout out their praises. Who wouldn’t? Even me who is weak and ailing, when the cruel claws of suffering relinquish their hold on me – my spirit shouts and I would love to squeeze the face of my good, good Father in thanksgiving. In those healing moments, my spirit shouts “Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!”, followed by “I love You! I love You! I love You!” And mean it too, with all I have.

But what does loving God with all we are look like when suffering squeezes out all our peace, joy, strength, and even hope? It will look like a soul slumped at Jesus’ feet, begging for mercy and deliverance, enveloped with sorrow, yet full of faith. Faith that is bold enough to proclaim —

Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him… (Job 13:15

Keeping God’s commandment is the whole duty of man (see Ecc. 12:13) and the first and greatest commandment is to love Him above all things.

…”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.” (Mat. 22:37)

Sometimes, this proves to be challenging, hard for those who are struggling against bitterness and cynicism. We can go through the motions, but nothing is hidden from God. He knows our hearts more than we can ever attempt to. He who has made our heart, shall He not know?

The Lord looks down from heaven;
    he sees all the children of man;
14 from where he sits enthroned he looks out
    on all the inhabitants of the earth,
15 he who fashions the hearts of them all
    and observes all their deeds. (Ps. 33:13-15 ESV)

Love for God is more than a surge of our fickle emotions, more than a high or a thrill. It is a decision, a sacred commitment. A covenant. Love is a verb. To obey God humbly and willingly is to love Him. The Lord Jesus said,

“If you love Me, keep My commandments. (John 14:15)

Sometimes, we find it hard to love Him fervently because we can’t seem to feel His love for us. But we know from His Word that He loves us, yes, even when it doesn’t look that way sometimes. So, we work it out, as we do in all our important earthly relationships. We pray. We worship. I have found out, as many others have before me, that meeting the Lord Jesus Christ in worship is the surest way to feel His love.

With my weak diaphragm and problems with breathing, I can only sing one or two praise songs, if at all. But during those moments as I humbly present myself to Him, I am enveloped by His light and love and my worship becomes a sacred dance. Our dance. His Spirit and mine. And I know then that I am deeply, completely, unfailingly, eternally, loved.

This year, I am poised to continue to run the race that is set before me, forgetting the 13 years that I had not received my healing. The 13 long years that I had suffered, that I had been left behind, that I had struggled against deep longings and emotions that were unprofitable. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Or record of unanswered prayers.

Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead (part of Phil. 3:13) —

— with a renewed commitment to love God above all things. Above my healing and dreams and longings.

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That Our Joy May Be Full

When was the last time that your joy was full? I mean, in every sense of the word “full”? No part fear, no part sorrow. No lack, no traces of longing or dissatisfaction somewhere deep inside. You are content and your joy is pure and unsullied. Maybe for you, it was last Christmas or yesterday or this morning. For me, I can’t remember the last time. It was too long ago, a time when good health was mine to enjoy. For even when my son was born, a day I would have celebrated with trumpets blowing, sorrow filled my heart. I was blessed with a beautiful, healthy baby boy, but I was too sick and weak to relish the moment. Instead of my heart being filled with joy, it was filled with fear. It has been that way since my health was stolen and in its place is sickness and suffering: joy mixed with sorrow. If that were even possible.

This was just a super quick doodle on my mixed media journal. But if you look closer, notice the metallic gold, copper, and ruby on the petals’ and leaves’ edges. For aren’t answered prayers and fulfilled dreams like gilded things?

Since around Christmas last year, I had been feeling depleted and running on low (if not empty). I couldn’t seem to put my heart and mind into a place where I could move in a steady rhythm once again and with some measure of contentment and joy. So, I just let myself float and wait for fresh grace and inspiration to come. Although all that time, I continued steadfastly in prayer.

The night I started to write this, I felt some sense of peace and courage flowing in to continue to serve the Lord with all I am and to love Him just as much. In a subtle, almost imperceptible way, I felt a fresh and much deeper still commitment to do those things that are pleasing in God’s eyes creeping into my heart, spreading quietly but surely. I needed that fresh watering of my soul for I had been writing on my prayer journal, asking the Lord to not let me grow cynical.

I remembered the Lord Jesus’ words —

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mat. 11:28)

“…he who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)

His love and words woo us back to Him, faithfully and fervently abiding in Him.

I was revived, rekindled, and wooed back into the happy place of loving and following the Lord Jesus Christ. It didn’t come like a rushing wind, or a mighty fire from heaven, or a flood that swept me. It came like a soft feather caressing my face, like a warm flannel gently wrapped around me by unseen hands. I had to strain my ears to listen, to make sure it was there alright.

When I woke up the next morning, my soul whispered, “I love You, my Father, my dearest Lord Jesus Christ”, even before I opened my eyes.

I know, it is well with my soul.

Sometimes when I desire so much to get well and be able to go out, doing the things I’ve been so wanting to do, like traveling and testifying of the grace and mercy of God, a voice whispers in my mind. It tempts me to feel guilty asking for those things that will make me full of joy. Most of the time, it succeeds. I listen, and then feel guilty. But when I reached John 16, I was freed through the Lord’s words. Surely, I have read it numerous times before, but this time, it took on a new color, the very thing that I needed.

“…ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24)

That voice in my head has been lying, for the Lord Jesus tells me differently.

It’s okay to not feel joy-full when we’re deeply longing for something, like healing perhaps. We need not feel guilty if we feel sorrow not receiving the things we so desire. That doesn’t make us ungrateful. And yes, it’s okay to desire the things that will do us a world of good. Even the Lord knows that it’s only when we have received what we asked for that our joy may be full. He’s saying that, until we ask and receive it, its absence in our lives leaves much to be desired and our joy is not complete.

It’s okay to desire and ask and believe that whatever we’re asking for from His hand will make us full of joy.

A healing.

A child.

A friend.

A love.

A yes.

A relationship mended.

A marriage repaired.

A family restored.

A loved one’s salvation.

A place visited.

A dream fulfilled.

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.(1 John 5:14-15)

Because, you know what? He’s all there. He is in that place where our joy becomes full. He is there waiting to give it to us, to rejoice with us in the receiving.

Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.

The Lord is inviting us, encouraging us, beckoning to us with His outstretched hands.

Ask.

Receive.

Be joy-full.

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The Way of Hope

On New Year’s Eve, I sat at my new, shiny marble-topped painting table (a Christmas gift from Felix), staring into my laptop screen. I flitted from Pinterest to Instagram to Photos Library and back again, looking for inspiration, a photo I would paint that would lift off the sadness and weariness I was feeling. I wanted to paint but I felt that both my body and spirit were tired. Minutes ticked by and I couldn’t decide. I planned to do a series of serious painting jobs, elaborate orchids and fruits, at the beginning of 2017, but that night, I just wanted to experience the joy of watercolor. But the moment didn’t come. I felt tired, undecided, uninspired. Like the old year that just passed. I ended up dabbling a parent bear and its cub, tightly snuggled together.

mommy bear and cub

The mommy bear and cub I doodled on NYE. Maybe my soul was wanting to be cherished by my Father in heaven and let Him soothe away all my aches, sickness, and suffering.

That morning, I wrote on my prayer journal feverishly. I remembered the year that was, all the times that I was left behind when Felix and the kids went away: out-of-town excursions last summer, and recently, the Christmas party of our company, Actichem, which culminated in a buffet lunch at Vikings. There were many others in-between – them going out, me staying behind. Like the other years before. In those times, I had felt desolate. But they, too, passed.

While I was writing on my prayer journal, I felt sad, bitter, resentful, and angry all at the same time. There was a lump in my throat as I thought about my life. I covered about two whole pages and although I wrote so many things (mainly about my soul’s bitter complaints), what I can remember clearly now is writing “alone, alone, alone!” Can you feel the angst? (Please forgive me for writing thus, but it will get better. Promise).

HOPE. I was inspired to paint this photo I found on IG, the tiny purple flowers shooting out of the crack of the stone wall, like hope shining over our lives even when darkness threatens.

HOPE. I was inspired to paint this photo I found on IG, the tiny purple flowers shooting out of the crack of the stone wall, like hope shining over our lives even when darkness threatens.

So I sat at my painting table, feeling the weight of my achy, inflamed back and my sorrowing spirit. I saw myself sitting on a rock in the middle of a circle where roads went in all directions with the labels: “patient waiting”, “perseverance”, “persistence”, “do not grow faint in prayer”, “quiet strength”, “steadfastness”, and many other blurry signs, but none that I would like to take at that moment. I just wanted to sit and do nothing.

But I remember begging God to “help me and tell me what to do because I don’t know what to do and where to go from here”. I had tried everything. I had walked each road in that multiple crossroads. Still, I am too sick and weak to walk and travel. And there are still times in the day that I wrestle for good breathing.

 A few hours before New Year, I stared at a framed artwork on the wall with a Bible verse:

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer. 29:11)

Hope. I still don’t leap in joy, both physically and spiritually. But hope carries me through the days. It carried me through the last hours of the old year to welcome the new year… still faithful to the Lord. When 12:00AM struck and fireworks boomed out of everywhere and lit up the sky without letup – purples, reds, oranges, greens, blues, gold, and silver sparks and lights – I felt the powerful presence of God. I raised my hands toward heaven and praised and worshiped Him with hallelujahs. Nothing can equal His power no matter how much noise we create. It is still His world and I am just a tiny speck in it. A speck He calls by name.

So, I let hope carry me through my quotidian life, especially through the wearying days. The Bible says that hope doesn’t disappoint, although I feel terribly disappointed at times. Still, hope is there in the background of my life, as the mountains surround Jerusalem. It hovers over my head, a sturdy assurance as the heavens above. It is settled and deeply rooted in the soil of my heart forever.

Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Rom. 5:5)

It is hope that feeds peace and joy. Hope that exhales out fears, doubts, and uncertainties, and inhales in invigorating air to sustain and continue life.

I saw myself standing up from that rock where I sat not knowing what to do or think or pray for, and chose the way of hope. I have no huge plans for now. Still waiting for divine inspiration perhaps. Not even words to encourage you, or an overflow of joy to infect you, or a shining light to brighten up your day. But you and I – we have hope. For the coming days and weeks and months.

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast… (Portion of Heb. 6:19).

This is what we’re going to do (see Rom 12: 12):

 Rejoice in hope (though sometimes we don’t feel like rejoicing).

Be patient in tribulation (though sometimes we think we have completely run out of stock; God will replenish our supply).

Continue steadfastly in prayer (though sometimes we can’t seem to find the words to move His hand).

 The Word of God has an answer to our every need. An encouragement. A hope.

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Of Christ’s Fullness

I was glad when, a few days before Christmas, I arrived at the Book of John in my daily Bible reading and journaling. This is what I do: I read one book from the OT Beginning at Genesis, then one book from NT, beginning at the Book of Matthew, back and forth. What preceded John was Deuteronomy, so it was law to grace. Unlike Luke, John doesn’t retell the birth of Jesus, but it is equally rich in powerful promises. Walking through the Book of John is like walking through a diamond mine.

GRACE. My original watercolor painting on 9" x 12" wc paper. (Reference photo by Serah Loud via IG).

GRACE. My original watercolor painting on 9″ x 12″ wc paper. (Reference photo by Serah Loud via IG).

Full of bright expectations, I was on the lookout for God’s riches in the form of words and promises. And they came, like precious gems sparkling in a dark cave.

And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:16-17)

Of Christ’s fullness we have all received. 

His truth. His grace. His forgiveness. His salvation. His healing. His life.

Yes, because,

…As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God… (John 1:12)

the right

to become

children of God

As the Lord Jesus is, so are we in this world (part of 1 John 4:17). . Heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (part of Romans 8:17).

But sometimes, it just doesn’t seem that way. We fall ill. We suffer. We become destitute – of food, of strength and courage, of healing, of deliverance from problems. Dreams are not fulfilled. Longings are not satisfied. We groan. Tears fall.

But all these don’t change the truth: To those who have received the Lord Jesus Christ and who believe on His name, they are the children and heirs of God. We have that unseen treasure, treasure that neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal (part of Mat. 6:20)…

neither death nor life

nor angels nor principalities nor powers

nor things present nor things to come 

nor height nor depth…

Nothing and no one shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom.8:38-39).

So we suffer tribulation, but in essence, in truth, in reality – we are good. We will be fine.

It is well with our soul.

We are not left behind. We are not forsaken. We are not poverty-stricken. The Lord Jesus said in Rev. 2:9: “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich)…” Yes, heirs-of-the-kingdom-of-God rich. 

A beloved preacher in our church and his wife came from a wake an hour after Christmas Eve. They were going home to their place knowing that they didn’t have any food prepared for noche buena. So, when they passed by Mini Stop, they realized they were hungry, so they entered and had each a siopao (Chinese steamed bun). The beloved preacher told his wife cheerfully, “So, this is our noche buena.”

While the rest of the Philippines celebrated Christmas Eve with tables laden with food, gifts piled up under the Christmas trees, and carols and laughters ringing out, the beloved preacher and his wife enjoyed their siopao. And they were perfectly fine.

And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)

When we maintain a “kingdom of God” perspective, we wouldn’t know or see lack. We only know what we have in Christ.

It would have seemed in my last post that all I desire is to go to places I’ve never been and fill up my senses with the things I would see and experience. But that is not what is foremost in my mind. My desire is to do the will of God. I already have a plan set in place: When I’m already well, I will go wherever the Lord sends me to – to testify and win souls.

At the beginning of 2016, I set my life’s theme based on Isaiah 6:8: “Here am I! Send me.”  Throughout the year, every prayer I prayed for my healing, I ended it with, “Here am I, Lord, send me!”

I wasn’t sent anywhere except to my painting table or the patio. Still, it is well with my soul.

A MOST BLESSED, PROSPEROUS, VERY NEW YEAR TO US ALL!

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