When Misery Becomes Ministry

“Lord, why do I have to go through this? It is awful. It is painful. It is scary. Why?” Ever thought that? Yeah, me too. More than once. And recently. I’ve also wiped tears from someone’s face who said much the same. The question looms large in our minds: “Is there a purpose for all this pain?” Let me encourage you friend – I believe there is. Paul put it this way, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor 1:3-4).

Alcoholics Anonymous understands that a recovering alcoholic is uniquely qualified to help another find sobriety. Bosom Buddies brings a breast cancer survivor alongside one who is newly diagnosed. I have a dear friend who has a powerful ministry to post-abortive women because she made that same choice years ago. Because of my past experiences, I can sit across the table from a someone dealing with childhood bullying, sexual abuse, divorce, rejection, ridicule, depression, self-esteem issues, financial failure, a wayward child, uncertainty, and the fallout of their own sinful and foolish choices and say, “Been there, done that, and let me tell you how God got me through it.”

Paul continued his thought saying: “For just as the suffering of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows” ( 2 Cor 1:5). It’s like that old game of “Barrel of Monkeys,” where you link the arms of plastic monkeys to see how many you can pull out of the barrel in a conjoined string. All these things I’ve been through make me uniquely qualified to link arms with another and help them out of the barrel. In the end, we hopefully become a long string of survivors pulling more and more people out of despair, depression, and hopelessness.

One thing of which I am certain to the marrow of my bones: God wants to take your misery and turn it into ministry. He wants to use you and your story and your scars to speak hope and life into another suffering soul. You can sit and stew in your pain or you can help Him pull monkeys out of the barrel. Beloved, which will it be?

The Week after Covid

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This is a repeat and I apologize for that, but I am tired. Weary-to-my-bones kind of tired. Needing-more-than-a-day-off kind of tired. The tired that drains you physically, emotionally, and spiritually. After a week of battling Covid in my entire family, I’m drained body, mind, and spirit. At times like this, it’s really easy to sink into despair and cry “Woe is me!” and post my feelings all over social media. But how does that serve the cause of Christ?

Paul, who had every right to whine, choose instead to look at his life from a different perspective. “We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9). He acknowledged that his circumstances were hard – he was being pressed from many different directions by people who all wanted something from him (boy can I relate). He was perplexed; he couldn’t understand why his own people were rejecting the Messiah they had so long sought. He was persecuted – his life was often in danger, his ministry was detested by the Jewish leaders and even by certain factions of the church. He was struck down – beaten and stoned more than once for his dogged devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Despite all that, he refused to give in to misery. He knew that no human could crush him because he belonged to the Lord. He rejected despair. He reminded himself that his Lord and Savior would never abandon him, and had even come to stand beside him in prison (Acts 23:11). He knew that the Lord he served with all his heart would not allow him to be destroyed.

Beloved – this is YOUR testimony too if you are in Christ. You are not a victim—you are a victor! Yes, life gets very hard sometimes, but you and I need not give in to despair because our Lord will not let us be crushed or destroyed. He has promised to never abandon His own, not even in our darkest, hardest moments. Like Paul, we must learn to hold fast to Jesus and trust Him despite our circumstances or feelings. I am tired, but the Lord promises to give me strength. I am overwhelmed, but He will carry my burdens for me. I am weary, but He will sustain me. I can focus on my fatigue, or on my faithful Father. The choice is mine. The choice is yours too. Where will your thoughts take you today?

Finding Joy

I come from a long line of negative women. I love my mom, but she tended to be very pessimistic. She came by it honestly because my grandmother was also. It’s not that any of us had a really bad lot in life, but that was just ingrained in us. Who knows how far back it went in our family. Fast forward several years ago, when a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age and as I prayed for her I said, “What a waste of a beautiful life it will be if she dies this young.” And the Lord replied: “No more a waste than if you live for 100 years with a bitter, miserable heart.”

That was like a glass of cold water in my face. I had to make a change, but I wasn’t sure I could do this. To be honest, being miserable became a comfortable, known place. But God started gently through my best friend who began to rain down “Joy” on me. She gave me coffee cups, kitchen towels, figurines, photos, whatever she could find with those three letters emblazoned on them. She said, “I’m going to make you Joyful whether you like it or not.”  Then the Spirit began to direct me to Joyful verses in His Word:

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with Joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with Joy” (Psalm 30:11).

“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of Joy” (Psalm 65:8).

“This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

Then He pulled out the big guns and send a beautiful little girl into my life named Joy.  She calls me Nana and she lives up to her name. Not that my Joy is in her, but she is a constant reminder that “The Joy of the Lord is [my] strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

I don’t know your life or what traits were passed on to you, but I know that in Christ, you can be a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Lord can set new patterns in your mind and heart and give you Joy, hope, and peace. If you’re tired of negativity and misery, today can be the start of a new attitude. Come, Beloved, find your Joy in the Lord.

Do You Want to Get Well?

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“Do you want to get well?”( John 5:6) Rumor had it that an angel would descend with healing powers and stir the waters so that the first person who made it into the pool would be healed. The man was an invalid and was alone at the pool –  in misery. For thirty-eight long years. So we find ourselves questioning Jesus’ question. Of course, the man wanted to get well. Why wouldn’t he? We expect him to offer a hearty, “Yes! I want to get well!” But check out his response to Jesus: “Sir, I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred.  While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” (v. 7). Not exactly the answer we were expecting.

I’ve been the emotional invalid at the side of the pool. I didn’t suffer in silence; I would whine to anyone I could corner. My prayers were little more than a list of what was wrong in my life. I went to counseling and there was much advice given, but I never took it.  Like the man beside the pool, I always had a reason why I couldn’t do what was necessary for my healing. To be honest being miserable became a comfortable, known place. Healing and wholeness seemed – frightening.  But then a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age and as I prayed for her I said, “What a waste of a beautiful life it will be if she dies this young.” And the Lord replied: “No more a waste than if you live for 100 miserable years.” I blew out the candles and walked out on my pity party.

Charles Stanley said, “Sometimes our troubles and infirmities become such a part of our lives and identity that we have difficulty letting them go and allowing God to handle them. Have you been holding on to a painful experience or problem? You must choose to let it go. God offers you His healing, so there are no more excuses. You must decide what is more important to you – getting better or having a reason to say, ‘Woe is me.'”

Sometimes the biggest obstacle to our healing is us.

Self-made Misery

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Have you ever really repented of your sins? Or are you just sorry about the mess you’re in because of them? Right now you’re probably thinking, “And good morning to you too, Susie Sunshine!” I know – you much prefer the nice, gentle devotionals, but I speak as He speaks to me through His Word, and sometimes it’s not always pretty. This came into my heart this morning as I read in Hosea. You may recall, Hosea was a prophet of the Lord with a beautiful story of redeeming love. But the love story is just two chapters out of fourteen where the prophet is declaring God’s anger toward and coming judgment over the nation of Israel. He is calling them to repentance so that He might restore them. But they refuse. Even though they are in misery from God’s punishment, they will not turn away from their sin and turn back to the Lord. Listen to Hosea 7:14 – “They do not cry out to me from their hearts but wail upon their beds.” They were crying about their miserable situation, but they would not cry out to God in repentance. Jump back just a bit to 5:15 where the Lord said, “I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt. And they will seek my face; in their misery, they will earnestly seek me.”

Here’s a hard truth Friend, sometimes we create our own miserable situations. We sin, we wander away from God and like sheep grazing with our heads in the grass, we are unaware of the danger we’re in. All the while God is calling us to turn back to Him. When we find ourselves tangled in the briars of sin or weighted down from falling into the creek, we wail and whine, but we don’t confess and repent.

John said, “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just as will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Beloved, in the kindest, most loving way I know to say it – maybe it’s time to stop whining and start repenting.