Stop, Look, Listen

Before I said my prayers one night, after a day full of hardships as was the usual flow of my life, I realized that God’s favor may not be upon me. That should be it, what else could be the reason why I am not getting fully well, I am not being freed from suffering, and my fervent prayers for healing are not answered? In the morning, I would pray fervently, full of faith, for a miraculously healing. But just after breakfast, I would be gasping for breath like a fish out of water. My prayers for healing are clearly not answered. But I haven’t been really facing that fact because I thought that if I did, it meant that I was losing faith in God. And I know that without faith, it is impossible to please Him.

"Pockets of Quiet Places"

“Pockets of Quiet Places”

But that night, I needed to face the glaring truth: God’s favor is not upon my life as far as my healing is concerned. I receive answers to my other prayers: healing of family members, their protection, their success, their special petitions. But when it comes to my own personal petition, there seems to be a standoff. A 14-year standoff. For years I’ve been imploring the Lord to bring fresh change to my life, but He isn’t budging an inch. In the meantime, years pass and my life goes on: daily sickness and suffering, unable to travel even short distances. I’m always left behind. I have to plod through all the difficulties and challenges of my situation in each and everyday.

That night, I wanted to stop what I am doing: crowding God with relentless, importunate prayers, affirmations, declarations of faith, and the endlessly looking for His gifts tucked in everyday (so that I will always have a  reason to be grateful for). These are all good things, but I thought that I needed to stop the striving, the wrestling (Jacob’s kind), the advancing, the pounding and bombarding, the relentless fighting, the always-positive-always-powerful-always-full-of-faith stance.

I just wanted to stop and be still and know that He is God.

I wanted to experience Him even without my striving.

When I suddenly decide to keep silent, would I be changing God’s plan? I mean, when I decide to be still for a day, no striving in prayer, no nothing (but a heightened looking and listening for God’s movement), would God’s plan for the day come crashing down?

I realized that maybe I have been drowning God’s voice and movement because of my incessant begging.

That night, I had the desire to lie low and let God do what He desires to do. I want to just be quiet where I am and wait for Him, if He’s coming and what He’s going to do. I want to observe closely in a day how He will move in my life and would I be able to perceive it? I want to stop prattling about His “blessings” on my life that I don’t really see or not that big or great but still thankful for because I should always be thankful. I should always be thanking, honoring, glorifying Him. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that it’s kind of forced sometimes, especially when I don’t see change in my sick and suffering life.

What if I cease doing all that and wait for Him to move in my life? To see if He will, to prove that He is looking and listening all this time?

To stop, be still, look, and listen. It is like asking. “Are You there, God?”

The following day, I still prayed and read my Bible, but I didn’t pound on heaven’s door; I didn’t try to pry God’s arm from His bosom to do what I needed Him to do for me. What I did, I watched. And waited.

I watched for His coming. I watched if He would manifest Himself to me. How? In what ways? I didn’t know. But I hoped that I would know if it was Him.

This reminded me of the prophet Elijah when he ran to the wilderness to escape Jezebel’s wrath.

A great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind;

And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;

And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.

(From 1 Kings 19)

Thankfully, nothing of this sort happened on that day or the day after just to show God’s presence. But a few days afterwards, when there should have been a good reason to be angry and deeply hurt and an important relationship taking on another blow to the point of breaking, a still small voice whispered:

“Let go of pride. When you let go of it, you won’t have any reason to harbor anger or hurt. You are not supposed to get hurt when life seems not fair or even harsh. You are a child of God, daughter of the King of kings, a citizen of heaven, an heir of eternal life. Though you live here, you don’t belong here. You belong to Me.

“When others hurt you, treats you unkindly or even cruel to you, you don’t have to contend. You don’t have to explain or defend yourself or reason out to prove that you’re right and the other wrong. I know and see everything and I will put things aright.”

I let go of pride (or any likeness of it). I let go of the need or even the right to prove I was right.

When pride is slain, love flows in unobstructed. Love flows in and suddenly, we see clearly. We see the things we cannot see while we are striving. We see the face of love, like the gates of the kingdom of heaven flung open. We see the light shining through, melts all coldness and hardness and hurts.

Love expands and grows within and we see only the face of the Savior, always there loving us, even when we can’t perceive it.

Love shone when I most needed it. God manifested Himself by slaying the pride in my heart so that I would only know love. He manifested Himself by setting me free, not from my sickness and suffering, but from holding on to the right to be proven right.

This meekness and lowliness, things the Lord Jesus wants us to learn from Him, beget more love. Love, a surprise gift from a most unlikely situation. Love begets more love. I received it in full.

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Life Hidden with Christ

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a fellow Christian artist friend. She knows the physical difficulties I am going through (in fact, she gave me an emu balm she bought during her trip to New Zealand to help soothe my atrophying legs) and she also shared her own health problems (although I could sense that she was trying to downplay her own health challenges because she knows how hard I’m suffering). At the end of our exchange through Viber, she expressed her faith in our Lord Jesus healing us both, and I replied that yes, He will keep us and protect us under the shadow of His wings. For I felt then that, we, as mothers who long to be strong and live long on the earth, need the Lord’s all-encompassing protection and keeping.

hidden with Christ

I was feeling frustrated while painting something for my blog theme, for I felt exhausted after even just half an hour working. But my Lord comforted me, whispering to my heart that it’s okay, that I need not rush things and I need not produce perfect. Just something to bring Him joy.

When I am sick, weak, and fearful, all I want to be is under the shadow of God’s wings. I want to hide myself in that safe place from everything that’s making my life hard until it all comes to pass. Sometimes, that means I am invisible to the world, too, and that’s fine with me. Being hidden, obscured from the world’s prying eyes, is a definition of safe and peaceful for me. For the more than 13 years of illness, I’m used to my quiet life at home.

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me!
For my soul trusts in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge,
Until these calamities have passed by. (Ps. 57:1)

When life is looking up bright and some measure of wellness is mine to hold, I venture out into the world, albeit virtually through social media. I would share photos of our family and our simple celebrations. I would share my art and words to encourage. I also like the connection I have, especially in Facebook, with loved ones and friends old and new, far and near.

My motive for sharing our life in photos and words through Facebook is to let others know that despite my health situation, we are doing fine by the grace of God. That there is real joy and peace in our hearts despite the trials, and there is always a reason to celebrate and thank the Lord. Whenever I arise from the ash heap of sickness and suffering, I post a photo of myself (in a pretty blouse and maxi skirt and with a light makeup) as a testimony of God’s enduring mercy and to send a message to the world: “Hey, the Lord keeps me alive!” I want God to be glorified in that regard.

But sometimes, I can overdo it. Sometimes, the inner motive becomes something like, “Hey, people! We are doing fine, far better than you think. We are not left behind. We are not pitiful. See? We’re having a party. The husband and the kids went to this place and that place, etc. etc.” It is then that the motive is tinged with pride and comparison.

Sad to say, social media is not all connection, but also a breeding ground for comparison. And competition.

With great dismay, I have examined my heart and found out that not all my motives in posting on social media are pure. They are tainted, in one way or another, with pride and the desire to be admired. It is terrible, I know, but that is the human heart if we don’t search it every now and then and let the Holy Spirit guide it even in the smallest matters, like posting on social media.

I’m not sure if this is true for you, too, but I think that there is this tendency of the human nature to flaunt to the world that one’s life is beautiful, even if only on social media. If a life is “true and through” good and beautiful in the Lord Jesus Christ, then go ahead and testify it to the world, for God’s glory and honor and for the edification of others. Nothing more, nothing less. Never to make others feel envious, or less-than, or miserable. And even if that isn’t our purpose, we may still end up affecting others in a negative way if we are not careful.

Our lives in the Lord should edify and not bring others down. Edification is defined as the instruction or improvement of a person morally or intellectually*.

So, when I felt that connection in Facebook has turned to comparison and realized that my life was overwhelmed with envy and that I wasn’t growing spiritually but rather shrinking inwardly, I slowly retreated to the quiet of my solitude.

In the past, I used to think that my life in obscurity is something to be ashamed of. I don’t want people feeling sorry for me and our family. I don’t want them thinking that we’re not normal. So, when I saw the opportunity through Facebook to let others know we’re thriving in spite of, I grabbed that.

But now, the Lord is teaching me that the hidden life, the unknown, obscure life we live for Him is not something to be ashamed of. Life still happens, very much throbbing with events, both miraculous and mundane, even if the world doesn’t see. Even though it’s hidden from the world’s stage, life’s every moment still matters, every season full of purpose and meaning, when lived at the center of God’s will and love. We have only one audience. God. There is only one we need to please to the uttermost. God.

Many people including myself, want approval. But there is only one approval we need to seek. God’s.

The days I was putting up this blogpost, I reached Judges 13 in my Bible reading. Manoah seemed so in awe of the message of the angel regarding the birth of their son Samson that he blurted out, “What is your name, that when your words come to pass we may honor you?” But the angel of the Lord was quick to reply: his name is secret. He wanted to remain anonymous. He wouldn’t receive honor from men, only God’s esteem.

Like the angel of the Lord, may we not seek to be honored and applauded. May we always seek to bring glory and honor to God and not to ourselves.

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Col. 3:2-4)

*From the online dictionary.

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Pride and Reputation

What’s really holding us back into the fullness of Christlikeness? Why do we slide back in our faith journey time and time again? There could be a lot of things that stunt our spiritual growth, in growing in the grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18). Number one could be the world’s influence. It could influence our beliefs, mindsets, and affections and create conflicts in our being, that is,  if we are not fully surrendered to God. This influence spawns pride and all the other things attached to it. An air of self-importance and a desire to be regarded highly, for example. Pride comes in many disguises, and yes, it could deceive the not-so-vigilant Christian. That’s why it’s important that we should be humble enough to subject our hearts and motives to close examination and keep our hearts open to God for counsel and correction.

pride

But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, we succumb to our intense emotions and let them trump our desire and disposition to obey Christ. When that happens, we have let the world’s beliefs and teachings to overcome our belief in and grasp of the truth of God’s Word.

The world’s beliefs and teachings run contrary to the Lord Jesus’ teachings. And yet, if we are not that diligent in following Christ and walking after the Spirit (we may be lax in praising, praying, reading the Bible, and fasting), we may consciously or unconsciously adapt the world’s beliefs and mindsets, letting them affect our dispositions, behaviors, and attitudes.

For instance, the world, through various self-help books, adamantly teaches about self-esteem. (And we have that natural tendency to think highly of ourselves, and that, if we are not totally surrendered to the Holy Spirit, it just might take a life of its own, rise up to invade our hearts and overpower us). But the Bible teaches us to esteem others better than ourselves and to forbear, with hearts ready to forgive.

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

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. (Col. 3:12-13)

In another place, Apostle Paul teaches thus:

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. (Rom. 12:3, emphasis mine)

We grow in the grace and knowledge of our Savior Jesus Christ through the Word of God. The Bible, especially the Gospels and the pastoral letters, teaches us everything we need to learn to know and obey Christ and grow into His fullness. But if we have not embraced the Word and let it permeate our being, or if we let ourselves starve of it, spending more time online, endlessly browsing our social media news feeds and watching worthless videos instead of reading the Bible and meditating on it, we will remain ignorant of the words of life and untrained in dealing with life graciously and competently.

To live in God’s Word is to live in true power.

But if we starve ourselves of it, we will always slide back. We will be a heavy burden to others instead of steadily growing, bearing much fruits, and leading others to Christ by the very life we lead.

The Word of God is truly a lamp unto [our] feet, and a light unto [our] path (Ps. 119:105). The wise in Christ utilize it to help them traverse this difficult thing called life and emerge victoriously. Being victorious doesn’t always mean we get what we pray for. It often means that we mature spiritually through the trials, learning as we should, and God accomplishing what He has purposed for us: conforming more and more to the image of His Son (see Rom. 8:29). For example, it is hard to readily forgive if we do not cling to the Word for wisdom and guidance. And yet, even if we know the Word, we still need to pray agonizingly with humble hearts and tears, for it to move mightily against the devil’s strongholds: pride, anger, selfishness, etc.

And it will. Unfailingly.

So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. (Is. 55:11)

If we surrender to God’s Word powered by our unceasing prayers, it will deliver us and set us free from whatever is holding us captive, may it be anger, unforgiveness, lovelessness, coldness, indifference, etc.

But if we harden our hearts against it, if we wouldn’t listen to the Holy Spirit’s prodding and let our pride grow bigger than our stature, we have not really learned Christ. Our pride would blind us from the truth of God’s Word and we would be like a tree stump – short, stagnant, barely living.

Do you find it hard to let go of your desire to be treated with high repute to the point of hurting your relationships and being hard-hearted towards God’s Word? We can never discount the power of the Word in our lives. But if we do not know it, how can we apply it? If we do not study it, how can we abide in it?

This is what the Word can do:

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Heb. 4:12)

The Word will help us discern the intents and thoughts of our hearts when we subject ourselves to it. We can’t hide anything from it. If we know the truth, yet go on following our will and emotions, we live in hypocrisy.

Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin. (James 4:17)

We all want to receive this blessing from God:

The Lord make His face shine upon [us],
And be gracious to [us];
The Lord lift up His countenance upon [us],
And give [us] peace. (Num. 6:25-26)

How do we make that happen? The answer is in Isaiah 66:2:

“…But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, And who trembles at My word.” (Is. 66:2, emphasis mine)

When we make the Word our dwelling place, we are constantly guided and hard-heartedness will find no place in our lives.

I love the constant guidance of God through His abiding Holy Spirit and His Word. His voice may not be audible, but I can strongly sense His counsel, ever-guiding, ever-speaking to my heart. And when I feel like He is silent, I pray and draw closer to Him. Always, my prayers are accompanied with this silent whisper, “Draw me closer to You, oh, Lord.”

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“The Wrestlings” Final Discussion: Living Holy

The last chapter of my little ebook The Wrestlings Along the Narrow Path talks about holiness, that it is the end, the final outcome, of all our struggles in our faith walk.

(image source)

In our Church, we are taught to dress modestly and decently for that is a manifestation of holiness. So, we wear long skirts and dresses whose styles don’t show a lot of flesh or curves. The purpose is to not entice men to ogle and sin with their eyes and in their minds. We are also discouraged to wear jewelries and makeup that depicts “fakeness” in place of the natural beauty that comes from a spirit at peace with God. Simple beauty and display of humble aura, therefore, make for a portrait of holiness.

But I want you to understand this: that without the power of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts and minds, we can never do these things willingly and gladly. 

Holiness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit in us. The wearing of modest apparel and bearing an overall aura of a quiet and meek spirit are products of walking closely in the Spirit.  Humble surrender and obedience to God’s will emanate from a heart that is empowered by the Holy Spirit.

A woman, therefore, that is led by the Spirit of Christ will clothe herself in a way that is pleasing in God’s sight and to others.

But holiness doesn’t stop there. There is also a need for us to guard our hearts and minds the whole time we are awake. Unholiness can easily dwell in the heart and mind that are not diligently and constantly guarded. There are two main important things that we need to do: one, to determine in ourselves to be vigilant in guarding our hearts and minds from the flaming arrows of the devil, and two, to stay as close as possible to the Savior. That is, to spend time in His presence everyday.

These two things must make up the cycle of our daily lives to be able to follow holiness (Heb. 12:14).

Determination to Guard the Heart and Mind

Just as spending quality time in the presence of the Lord – praising, worshiping, praying, and soaking in the Word – cleanses and empowers us, so does spending too much time with the world dilute this spiritual cleanness and power. It could dilute them until we become powerless, weak, and defeated.

The world is the rich source of all temptations. If we immerse ourselves in it – TV, Internet, worldly magazines, pleasures – we acquire its ways. Before we know it, sin – pride, covetousness, comparison, competition, envy, jealousy, resentment, bitterness, uncleanness, gossip… – has crept into our beings.

Be conscious and cautious with what you watch and read and listen to. Don’t let yourself slide into complacency and be sucked into the quick sand of worldliness where it’s hard to extricate yourself.

…keep oneself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27)

Our thought life has a huge role in our pursuit of holiness. What do we meditate on? Are they things that are acceptable to God? I have read in one of Ms. Joni Eareckson Tada’s books that she wrestled with her thought life. I can relate with her. We are two people who, although we have different disabilities, are prone to “living” in our thoughts. People who are weak and unable to do things normally and are often strapped in bed or in the wheelchair tend to while away the time (and suffering) daydreaming. It depends on what one meditates upon. In my case, I daydream of all the things I want to do when I’m well. That’s not bad to a certain extent, but it could become consuming or spawn adverse feelings such as too much craving which leads to emptiness, bitterness, or resentment.

Sometimes, daydreaming could also become a fictional romance (if you have a rich imagination!) that goes on and on in your mind wherein you are secretly delighted in. (Guilty. And this is where I also struggle).

May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Ps. 19:14 NLT)

Draw Ever Nearer to God and Stay in His Presence

There are two things that we must do to remain in the presence of God: extricate ourselves from the things of the world – Internet, TV, incessant busyness, etc. – and draw near to Him. Everyday. Let our hearts and minds be drenched (watered abundantly) by His Spirit (in worship and prayer) and His Word.

Apart from our Savior, there is no holiness that can reside in our beings. He alone imparts it.

You can find information on my ebook and the complete discussions here.

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Lessons From the Past

Meditating on Psalm 106.

Blessed are those who keep justice,
And he who does righteousness at all times! (Psalm 106:3)

Psalm 106 is a summary of Israel’s journey from the land of Egypt to Canaan, under the leadership of Moses, to their life beyond that – under the appointed judges and the reigns of kings.

Reading Psalm 106 reminded me of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians chapter 10. It was a grave warning. One that makes us stop in our tracks and let the words move powerfully in our being. The Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians of the Israelites of old:

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. 10:11)

This admonition is for us, too. What are the lessons we can glean from the life and journeyings of the ancient Israelites as narrated in Psalm 106?

1) Being Unmindful of God’s Wonders, Miracles, and Mighty Deeds (vv. 6-7)

After witnessing God’s wonders that He performed in Egypt, plaguing the land to amaze Pharaoh and make him liberate the Israelites, the people forgot. God did not earn their faith and trust at all. When they found themselves between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s pursuing army, they raised their voices and complained to Moses.

Do you easily forget God’s goodness and mercy in times of distress and great trials? Our lack of faith and trust in Him displeases Him. But our constant remembrance of and thanksgiving for His works glorify Him.

2) God Performs Miracles for His Glory (vv. 8-12)

Despite Israel’s lack of faith and rebellion, He saved her and showed her His mighty power. God’s wondrous works that He performs in our lives are meant to exalt Him and give Him glory. Do we thank and praise Him for them, and declare them to other people? Or do we secretly think that they are products of our own strength and wisdom? Pride is a sin that usually ensnares a person, even a Christian.

3) Giving in to Lusts (vv. 13-15)

Though God fed them with manna, their soul began to loathe it, and they remembered the flavorful dishes that they used to eat in Egypt. They lusted for food.

This passage brings a tinge of conviction to my heart. It is not only food that we may lust for. There are myriad things that our souls may greatly desire, and in the midst of hard trials, don’t we sometimes loathe what is daily given to us and wish for something else? But what we think we lack and crave for may exactly be the thing that God is withholding, to give us something far better and more filling. Yes, in the very absence of the things we desire, in that very place, God could be filling us with so much more: the growth of our souls, the deepening of our faith and devotion to Him, and the expansion of our love.

4) Punishment for Jealousy and Idolatry (vv. 16-23)

God punished those who were jealous of Moses and Aaron. Their forming and worshiping of the image of an ox kindled His wrath so fiercely that He wanted to destroy the whole nation had not Moses interceded.

Don’t we also do that? Unconsciously? When we are on that place of waiting, desperately waiting, long and hard, don’t we sometimes divert our attention to temporary things that get us off of the presence of the Lord? Don’t we also sometimes create things that will bring us great pleasure, filling, as well as consuming, our hearts and minds and days? Don’t we also set up idols in our hearts?

5) Complaints and Murmurings God Hates (vv. 24-33)

God was pleased to give them Canaan, the Promised Land, but they despised it. God was so hurt and angered that He determined to destroy those people and did not let them see the land.

When we are disappointed and dissatisfied with what the Lord provides for us and we bitterly complain about them, we dishonor Him. Our unthankfulness greatly offends Him. Our constant complainings and grumblings turn away His blessings intended for us.

6) Be Separate (vv. 34-43)

God redeemed us from the sin and filthiness of this world. He made us “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people” (1 Pet. 2:9). Just as He drew Israel toward Him to be His people, separate from the other pagan nations around her, He also wants us to be separate from the ways of the world. 

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More on Matthew 18:2-4 {A Child-like Faith}

This is what Matthew 18:2-4 says:

Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

I wrote about the beauty of a child’s faith in the last post and why the Lord makes a perfect model of faith out of a child, and we examined that children are fervent in their love for the Lord and fully trusting in Him. If we try to analyze it, the real driving force behind this is their humble obedience. Yes, humble obedience (the Lord can’t possibly be mistaken when He said, “Therefore, whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven”!).

The Lord tells His adult disciples and the crowd (while a child plays on His lap) that unless they become like little children, they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. The Lord knows exactly what’s in a man’s heart: pride, self-righteousness, inclination to rebel, etc. When it comes to loving and serving the Lord, a child fully believes what he/she is told by his/her God-fearing parents and acts on it as a manifestation of his/her obedience. Our kids Hannah and Tim, for example, are told by us that when they sing for the Lord in their respective choirs, they are serving and loving Him as they should and they will be blessed doing so. Because they believe this and they want to be blessed by the Lord, they act in obedience.

It is very unfortunate that it is not always true with us adults. Sometimes we try to argue, reason out, find excuses, and justify our actions and decisions why we cannot go and worship the Lord or why we cannot do whatever the Holy Spirit is urging us to do. My beloved parents-in-law, for example. (Please don’t think that I’m trying to bring them down. I love and respect them but I just want to illustrate how adults could be stubborn to the Lord at times).

Upon our persistent telephone calls to invite them to Hannah’s birthday celebration, they finally agreed, left their home in the province and traveled to the city. They arrived in our home Friday afternoon, the party was Saturday, and who would have thought that the following day, Sunday, they were ready to travel back to the province! They both had received the Lord Jesus Christ some years ago and continue to attend worship service in their place intermittently. I had thought that they will spend Sunday in Church (our Sunday worship service is from 10AM to 5PM) and praise and worship the Lord to keep holy the Sabbath Day. But no, they were raring to go home and no amount of convincing would change their minds! They said they needed to be home as soon as possible because they needed to plant peanuts, a work that could not be postponed!

While our two kids prepared for Church, I was somewhat worried about my parents-in-law, choosing to travel instead of worshiping God. I knew that if one of our kids made excuses to not go to Church, I would talk them out of it. I would impress in their hearts and minds that our disobedience displeases God and make sure that they would learn obedience (that is one of our main jobs as Christian parents!). But by God’s unending grace, our kids love to go to Church and sing in the choir.

What then?  Is the heart of a child a richer ground for the seed of faith to grow and flourish? Is it more tender and open to receive the Word and to humbly obey? And the heart of man a ground where weeds and thorns may grow (cares of the world, lusts of other things, etc.) and choke the Word that it becomes unfruitful? This may very well be and the Lord knows it! So, except we be converted and become as little children – listen, receive, believe, obey, follow, trust – we shall by no means enter the kingdom of God!

Friend, are there parts in your life right now that need to be illuminated? Where there are probably wrestlings with the heart and mind to make them listen, receive, believe, obey, follow, and trust? I pray we can all learn from the faith and humble obedience of a child.

Photos courtesy of Bro. Edu Cortez.

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God Subdues the Rebellious Heart

Meditating on Psalm 85.

Lord, You have been favorable to Your land;
You have brought back the captivity of Jacob.
You have forgiven the iniquity of Your people;
You have covered all their sin. Selah
You have taken away all Your wrath;
You have turned from the fierceness of Your anger. (Psalm 85:1-3)

God was angry at His people Israel that was why He gave them over to Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon. Jerusalem fell and its people were taken captive and brought to Babylon. After 70 years, Cyrus set them free and they returned to their own land. This may very well be what Psalm 85 speaks about.

God’s wrath was kindled against Israel because of her rebellious heart. Even though God had manifested Himself to His people, showing them His wonders and mighty deeds and giving them His commandments, they remained stiff-necked and would not obey Him. They followed their own hearts’ desires and worshipped other gods.

This natural sway to disobey and defy God began with Adam and Eve and continued throughout the ages, and it was not without repercussions. The people of the Exodus who murmured against God all died in the wilderness and did not see the Promised Land.

In our present time, even those who have already received God’s salvation may still be in danger of committing this sin. How could someone who has received the Lord Jesus Christ be tempted to rebel against Him?

Pride

Foremost that comes to mind is pride. I’ve heard some sad stories in Church about brethren who had departed from the faith because their hearts had been lifted up and followed other doctrines.

Worldly Desires

It could be the flesh yielding to its lusts. It could be choosing one’s successful career or other worldly pursuits over God, triggered by greed and the desire for fame.

Discontent, Bitterness and Resentment

Or could it be triggered also by discontent, bitterness and resentment? Of not wanting to submit oneself to God’s chastisement and refining? I, most unfortunately, also fell into the sin of resenting God’s work in my life. Wasn’t this exactly what the people of  the Exodus committed? They resented God’s provision for them and murmured. But God did all that to them to prove their hearts.

And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not(Deut. 8:2, emphasis added)

And this was for me, too, and for you. I’m sharing this with you so that you may also learn from my experience as I have.

Towards the end of 2009, I had been ill for 6 long years. I had been in and out of indescribable suffering. In those last days of 2009, I felt that my recovery was slow and on that particular day, I was wearied by constant suffering. I received the Lord Jesus in late-2003, and as early as 2004, I had learned not to complain about my state. I wanted to honor God even in the midst of my fiery trial, so I did not let  complaints come out of my lips. But on that fateful afternoon of December 28th, I slipped. I let my guard down and I uttered words that expressed my resentment about my condition.

If you’re curious about what I had said, it was like this:

I was sitting in our patio when my husband arrived from work. He asked how I was and I told him how hard my day was. He said that I must be thankful, and added, “At least you’re alive and still with us.” To which I answered with sullenness, defiance and resentment in my heart and voice, “If this is the kind of life that God gives me – never mind. I don’t like this.”

If I’d be totally honest, as I uttered those few words, I felt in my heart a fleeting desire to turn away from Him. To rebel. It was all so fleeting, but in that very thin window in time, God heard my murmuring, He saw my resentful heart and felt my discontent, and I kindled His wrath against me. And though later on, I repented with all my heart, God had set the wheels of my chastisement. My illness became worse nigh unto death.

In hindsight, I didn’t know why I let myself do that. I mean, I might have had reasons, but I knew that was very wrong. I fell into the enemy’s trap, that’s why it’s imperative to always be vigilant and watch unto prayer.

But I found great mercy in His sight, that’s why I’m also declaring the words of Psalm 85 with a deeply grateful heart!

Lord, You have been favorable to me;
You have brought back my captivity.
You have forgiven my iniquity;
You have covered all my sin. Selah
You have taken away all Your wrath;
You have turned from the fierceness of Your anger.

God has taught me never to resent Him for my trials and never question His judgments. Even if we don’t explicitly speak out our grievance, He sees our hearts. He not only wants us to know His mercy, He also wants us to learn the truth about Him.

Mercy and truth have met together;
Righteousness and peace have kissed. 
(v. 10)

These are the precious lessons I’ve learned in my latest trial.

I’m linking up with these lovely blogs.

Journey with Jesus,

The Place of Humility

I was wheeled into our newly-refurbished kitchen for the first time in many years, and besides my delight to see our old kitchen transformed into a more modern and sleek design, I felt dwarfed by the walls and cupboards. I was looking up to them whereas before, I was eye level to them.

I could not contain my pleasure for having been able to eat again in the island (more of a peninsula) of our kitchen after many years of being in and out of illness. But the great mercies of God which I have continuously seen at work in my life drive me to that place of being bowed down low, in trials or in victories, and poised to offer a profusion of sincerest thanksgiving.

In times of great joy as what I had felt the moment I sat in our kitchen, there is only remembrance of God’s enduring mercies and unfailing goodness, and words are never enough to thank Him even as I raised my hands in praise and worship. Later on when I was in our room, I knew that the cupboards seemed to have gone higher because I was sitting in my wheelchair, whereas before, many years ago, I stood in the kitchen while I worked.

Sitting low in my wheelchair and feeling dwarfed by the things around me serve as a constant reminder to stay in the place of humility. The Lord spent years teaching me humility. Those trying years saw me really grappling to walk alongside my Savior. He walked beside me, went before me, but always, He held me when I was about to fall and raised me up when I did fall flat on my face. He allowed all that – stumbling, falling, hurting myself, raising me up – so I could learn the important lesson of humility and total dependence on Him (yes, not on my own wisdom and strength), among other things, and be partaker of His holiness (Heb. 12:10).

You see, pride and being “Ms. High and Mighty” could be a “disability”. This could make a cripple out of a follower and the Lord is determined to do away with it. So, this follower was chastened to God’s satisfaction (I hope!) and learned to make my paths straight so that my “lameness” (or disability – pride, self-sufficiency, among other things) was healed (Heb. 12:12). That’s the way I looked at the whole process of learning and healing and becoming whole.

So, I did learn humility – the hard way. Victories sometimes attempt to displace me from my posture of humility and thanksgiving, but remembrance of God’s goodness and tender mercies drive me to earnest repentance and keep me rooted in that place of humility. It is always this:

Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? (Rom. 2:4)

The place of humility is a place of grace.

…be clothed with humility, for

“God resists the proud,
But gives grace to the humble.” (1 Pet. 5:5, emphasis added)

The posture of lowliness is the posture to receive grace upon grace. We received God’s amazing grace that moment when we fell down on our knees and humbled ourselves before Him. And we will receive the grace to illuminate His light and be used for His purposes as long as we stay in this place of humility, for humility precedes honor (Prov. 15:33, 18:12). I think about Mary and her exemplary life of lowliness coupled with quiet strength. This is something a servant of the Lord could emulate.

******

My gratitude list ~ things I’m thankful to the Lord for:

7. Being able to eat in the dining table (peninsula) in our kitchen after many years.

8. The Lord Jesus’ faithfulness to draw me closer and remind me of His enduring mercies and goodness.

9. Precious lessons learned in my walk with my Savior-Redeemer.

10. The delights photography – lights, colors, shadows – brings!

11. The love, peace, joy, and unity in the family

12. Home improvements

13. Tidied up and decluttered cabinets – clean house!

I’m linking up with other blogs, please check the list at the side bar.

Journey with Jesus,

The Practice of Love

The kids and I gather together this evening. I had been desiring for our family to have a gathering in the evenings to read the Bible, talk about what we have read, each give thanks for the day, then pray. But I know that my beloved husband can’t be easily invited to such. He sings praises, worships and prays every night for more or less two hours. Gathering with the family for the purposes I have mentioned is a thing he’d rather not join. This saddens me but I was determined to start with our two kids.

Hannah and I have been meeting to read the Bible and discuss, but this time, we include soon-to-be five-year-old Tim for he also needs a lot of teaching and praying over.

Lately, I have been thinking deeply on how to honour God more in my life. I felt that there must be something more to all the things that I do, something that is wrought by the Lord in and through me. I know that I lack and I err and I fail to follow through all that He wants me to  be and to do.

So the three of us gather together, forming a small circle (I don’t want any of the Lord’s words to fall to the ground). We talk about love. I point out to them that we are not loving the way the Lord Jesus wants us to. I tell them that sometimes we choose to be impatient, unkind, ungentle to one another. I point to myself. Why do I let myself speak harshly at times and snap rather than pay attention? Why can’t I completely rein in my temper and just be known for my gentleness? Why can’t I stop myself from answering back their dad when I am hurt? Why can’t I just take the pain and keep quiet? Most often, it’s my pride that gets hurt. So then, why can’t I just kill my pride? Didn’t the Lord tell us to pluck out our eye or cut off our hand if these make us sin? To have a meek and quiet spirit is still my earnest prayer.

“If I am not known for my gentleness, what am I known for? What are we known for?” I ask them, voice cracking. Why would you shove your brother to the side? I am looking intently at Hannah. Why can’t we love just like the Lord loves? Tears find their way out.

“We can’t stay like this”, I tell them. But I also tell them that I’m thankful I’m hurt and broken this way, for that means I’m not numb to God and His commandments. For if one has become numb and unmindful of God and what He thinks, one has become barren, spiritually dead. I am thankful for His tuggings at my heart for I know I am fully feeling, knowing, seeing. I am fully awake! The tears flow freely.

And I tell them more, like the Lord’s commandment (well, more like an urgent plea) to His disciples before He was taken to be crucified.

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:34-35, emphasis added)

We will be known as the Lord’s disciples by the way we love  one another.

“Can we begin to practise love, really, intentionally practise love everyday starting today? Just like how the Lord loves us?” I ask them. The Lord is not harsh nor unkind nor shoves nor shouts at us. Hannah nods sincerely.

I hold Tim’s face. His still-baby skin feels so soft in my hand. I tell him about loving by showing respect. I tell him what is love and what is not. I explain, I implore, and I am held in awe by how his beautiful eyes grow bigger and rounder. His eyes have opened and rounded to the full and I am amazed at the beauty of the faith of a child. If only we could easily open our eyes that big and round and fix them to Jesus, just like little children do. 

Maybe then we would not miss anything. Maybe then we could practise love everyday, even every moment.

We end with prayer. I pray and reach and cry out to God. I offer up our lives; we are His. For only in His light do our uglinesses vanish and we are changed. And we love Him so, with all our hearts, minds, and souls. Copious tears keep streaming down. We have been touched.

I’m linking up with other blogs, please check the list at the side bar.

Journey with Jesus,

Facing Setbacks {and More on Self-righteousness}

I’ve been noticing that every time I post, this would be shared on Facebook a fair number of times, ever since I joined that social network. I didn’t really know where they were coming from, but it sure made me glad for the more it is shared, the more people are reached. That is, until I wrote this. It was shared only 3 times on FB and received 2 comments so far. I couldn’t really understand it. But the topic was about not being humble enough to receive the true Gospel of salvation and relying on one’s own righteousness.

It was saddening to know readers didn’t like it, but honestly, I don’t regret what I had written. I wasn’t called to write to please people and become popular. I was called to share the truth of the Word, my testimonies and life lessons to people to please God. In this endeavor, I could easily be tempted to take it personally and get hurt, that’s why there are two things that I remember to do: look up and look in. I look unto Jesus who has saved and called me. I am not my own. I’m bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20; 1 Cor. 7:23). I look to Him for light and wisdom, for direction and — much-needed encouragement. Then, I look deep inside. I search for real motives. I probe and examine what’s in there and correct what needs correction, guided by the Word and the Holy Spirit. That’s how I’m held together.

And, I need to talk further about self-righteousness as one of the reasons why some people do not receive the true Gospel of salvation. It is brought about by lack of knowledge as much as it is pride in the heart. Most of the people I’ve been talking to these past years say that they believe in God and they are not committing a grave sin (then go on to enumerate their self-righteousnesses) and that’s that. It is like saying, “I don’t need to be born of the Spirit because I have not committed any grave sin. I don’t steal. I don’t kill…” Basically, the real reason for this is lack of knowledge of the truth. They cling to the belief that if a person is good (that is, based on the world’s standards), he or she will go to heaven. This is the exact opposite of grace.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Eph. 2:8)

Cornelius was a God-fearing man and he did many good deeds, but still, he was called by God to hear the Gospel of salvation and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. So also, our unsaved loved ones and friends need to hear this, if only they would listen and receive it, just as Cornelius and his whole household received it and were saved. (See Acts 10).

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. (Rom. 3:23, emphasis added)

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. (Rom. 5:12, emphasis added)

Until one admits that one is sinful and that he or she needs the Lord Jesus to save him or her – and this is humility – one will not be saved and receive the Holy Spirit, and one will not and cannot live and experience a new life.

I was talking to our new maid (she comes from our hometown and she knew me), sharing with her our story of salvation. Then I mentioned the church we had known while growing up and she said excitedly, “There, anything goes! All kinds of sinners and sinful acts are found there!” Then she laughed robustly. But sadly, what she said is true. This woman knows nothing about the Word, but she knows that what’s being done in that church is far from the teachings of the Lord. There is a lot of brokenness in their midst, yet, their hearts and consciences may have been too hardened to care, let alone feel the pain.

One may attend church religiously all the days of one’s life, yet, never learns the truth, never knows nor experiences the Spirit, and is never truly liberated.

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. (Hos. 4:6)

This is truly a deplorable situation, so we continue to pray and not relent.

My gratitude list:

  • My Tim’s healing from his cough that was asthma-like.
  • The Holy Spirit’s guidance: to forget all ugliness (hurtful words, confusion, dismay) and remember only God’s goodness and enduring mercies.
  • For a heart that humbles down and willing to learn and grow.
  • For new mornings, new mercies and new beginnings!
  • For love that hopes, believes and perseveres.
  • An afternoon in the garden photographing the aftermath of a downpour.