Inner anguish- when your heart is aching

“Inner anguish . . . forces us to embrace God, out of desperate, urgent, need. . . .  God is never closer than when your heart is aching.”- Joni Eareckson Tada

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”- Matthew 5:4

Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller conclude Chapter 11 of Boundaries for Your Soul with the third category of sorrow.  Next, they discuss turning sadness into your ally.

3.  Sorrow in response to losing a dream.  Alison and Kim encourage you to give attention to the loss of dreams that can no longer come to pass.  Perhaps you carry disappointment about unfulfilled dreams and expectations. Or a gap exists between your hopes and the reality of life.  Whatever the cause, the authors urge you to be present to the part of yourself grieving this loss.  Even though you must say goodbye to what might have been.

In conclusion, Alison and Kim note that when the presence of your Spirit-led self transforms your sadness, it becomes your presence and strength.  Furthermore, when pain causes you to draw near to God and experience His power, that pain becomes redemptive.

Therefore, when you befriend a sad part, God uses your pain to cultivate gentleness within your soul.  Hence, this leads to a gentle spirit with others. And it makes you more like Christ.

In addition, the authors advise, create space in your life for mourning when you experience the grief of loss.  They exhort:

“Lament signifies faith, not weakness; it shows you’re hanging on.  Set an intention with yourself — that whenever you feel pain, you’ll check in with your sad part and invite Jesus to draw near.  The resulting connection matters so much now, as this grieving part of you experiences afresh God’s loving- kindness.”

Today’s question: How do you notice God’s closeness when you feel inner anguish?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: Envy, an attention-getting signpost”

Heart Made Whole: Turning Your Unhealed Pain Into Your Greatest Strength

Heart Made Whole (Zondervan, 2016)

Christa Black Gifford — worldwide speaker, worship leader, and songwriter — penned her second book, Heart Made Whole: Turning Your Unhealed Pain Into Your Greatest Strength, in 2016.  Since pain never goes away on its own, you must feel, embrace, and bring that pain to the Healer.  For as long as pain coexists with you, its high maintenance tendencies keep you from enjoying life.  Hence, Ms. Gifford exhorts, choose to turn around and run toward the pain.  In addition, give Jesus access to every locked, forgotten space in your heart.  Only Jesus can take the shattered pieces of your life and put it back together, so it flourishes even in the worst situations.  Most noteworthy, the very place of deepest pain miraculously becomes the starting point of your heart’s greatest healing.

Next, Christa defines this deepest pain, aka trauma, as any place in your heart where your pain stays greater than your joy.  However, this creates a significant problem.  Most of us have no idea how to repair trauma when part of us remains damaged.  Also, it doesn’t matter whether the trauma results from the absence of something or from abusive punches.  Ultimately, though, the pain you fail to deal with eventually requires your immediate attention.  Yet, your created heart is never your enemy.  It hold the contents of the real you formed at conception.  To transform your life you must first allow your heart to transform.  Because God created your heart to flourish in surrender – rebuilt by grace and occupied by love.

Therefore, when the pain designed to help you becomes the kind of pain that harms you, it’s time to confront it head on.  But, Christa questions, when you go through trial, do you put God on trial in response?  For either we guard our hearts from God in doubt and distrust, or peace guides our hearts through Christ.  Thus, when tragedy strikes we must anchor our hearts in God’s goodness – or we lower out theology to match our pain.  God’s always intended to bind up your heart, making it undivided and whole.  So when you sign a cease-fire within, it allows your heart to move from constant war into deep rest.  Jesus pulls the broken in close, knowing that only love covers and heals the naked heart.

Finally, the author underscores, while the head might know, it’s the heart that believes.  As the Father gazes into your broken heart, He sees a place of amazing potential for miracles.  Not a hopeless mess beyond repair.  Furthermore, you find true freedom only when you bring every part of your heart into the light.  In the process, your focus shifts from your problem to the solution – handing the problem to Jesus.  As Ms. Gifford stresses, building your heart capacity with Jesu represents the most important thing you can do in life.  And you move toward a heart made whole as you live a life of encounter with Jesus.  To find joy in every situation, simply choose to engage your heart with Jesus, over and over again.

Your emotional heart – connected to your pain

“Whether you’re conscious of it or not, you know your emotional heart extremely well because it’s the part of you most closely connected to your pain.”- Christa Black Gifford

“Behold, my servants shall sing for gladness of heart, but you shall cry out for pain of heart and shall wait for breaking of spirit.”- Isaiah 65:14 (ESV)

Christa Black Gifford continues Chapter 5 of Heart Made Whole as she presents the first primary heart component.

1.  The emotional heart.  When most of us think about the heart, the first thing that comes to mind is our emotions.  Ms. Gifford explains:

“It’s the part of us that falls head over heals in love and experiences bursts of joy, but it’s also the part that feels as if it were gutted with a hunting knife when we get dumped and recoils in agony when a love one tells us that we are stupid, ugly, or unwanted.”

Thus, we walk through life in a hurtful world populated with imperfect people.  As a result, it’s impossible for your heart to remain completely safe and unaffected by negativity.  And your emotional heart shuts down completely if the ache becomes too great.  It grows cold in order to survive.  Imagine, Christa notes, that someone filled your heart with concrete so that nothing leaks out of your tear ducts.

In conclusion, unhealed pain so influences your emotional heart that you form belief systems around it.  Even as a child, Ms. Gifford underscores, it took only one major punch to rob your heart of its innocence. In turn, that punch convinced you life’s unsafe.  Consequently that’s when your guardian heart emerged.

Today’s question: What life punches threated to shut down your emotional heart?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Your inner guardian – armed guard protection”

Where God tears great gaps

“Where God tears great gaps we should not try to fill them with human words.  They should remain open.  Our only comfort is the God of the resurrection, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. . .”- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Pain shields us from living a Christian life in which we claim to know God but never actually encounter him.”- Brian Jones

As Brian Jones concludes Chapter 6 of Finding Favor, he asserts that Job didn’t suffer because of his sin against God.  Rather, Job suffered because of his obedience to God.  And in the end, Job’s obedience brought him even greater levels of blessing.

Therefore, Pastor Jones underscores, the whole point of Job centers around the fact that all of Job’s life was blessed.  That spans the soul-numbing tragedies he endured, the embrace of his family, and his staggering wealth.

As a result, Brian emphasizes, pain allows us to encounter God face to face.  In addition, as Thomas a Kempis wrote in The Imitation of Christ, “The Lord bestows his blessings there, where he finds the vessels empty.”  Furthermore, Pastor Jones posits, there’s a reason in part why God doesn’t let us choose the kind of favor we receive when we ask God to bless us.  Because we’d only pray for good stuff, left to our own devices.

In conclusion, Brian offers a few final thoughts on pain.  He neither wants to cheapen your pain nor make you feel better.  Also, the author lists several reasons why you don’t need to feel better.  You:

  • need to feel every last ounce of that pain
  • must never forget
  • don’t need to look the other way, covering over the anger you feel toward God and your tragic situation
  • cannot hide from your pain
  • learn to sit in the silence, in the dark – with only Jesus

Regarding his own five-year experience with pain, Brian states: “But over time I learned to sit in the silence.  No answers.  No relief.  Just him.  His presence, not his relief, was enough for me. It will be for you too.”

Today’s question: Where has God torn great gaps in your life?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: Paralyzed with awe at the power of prayer”

Getting out of difficult circumstances

“But here’s my caution: don’t be so focused on getting out of difficult circumstances that you don’t get anything out of them.  Sometimes the very circumstances we’re trying to change are the very circumstances God is using to change us. . . .  listen carefully to what God is saying during the tough times (emphasis author’s).”- Mark Batterson

Mark Batterson continues Chapter 11 of Whisper as he talks about two overarching lessons learned from the story of Job:

  1. Let’s not pretend that pain doesn’t exist.  As Pastor Batterson previously advised, don’t fake it to make it.  In other words, it’s okay if you’re not okay!  And admitting that represents the first step in the healing process.  For when we fail to grieve, wounds remain open.  We need the emotional antiseptic of grief to cleanse the wound.
  2. Let’s not explain the pain away with trite truisms.  When Job’s friends kept their mouths shut, they provided the greatest comfort.  So, when you feel pressured to say the right words, Mark advises that you say less and listen more.  He adds: “You can say a lot by saying little.”

Furthermore, Mark stresses, when it appears as if God’s letting us down, He’s setting us up for something quite possibly beyond our ability to comprehend at that present moment.  Thus, Pastor Batterson reminds us, faith is:

  • weathering the storm, not flying above it
  • trusting God’s heart even when we can’t see His hand
  • understanding that, at times, the obstacle = the way

While pain’s part of the curse, God’s certainly able to redeem, recycle, and speak through that pain.  No doubt, Mark notes, pain’s a difficult language to discern.  But like every other language presented in Whisper, it’s a love language.  Pastor Batterson concludes:

“The Word of God chose to die the most excruciatingly painful death to whisper His love to us loud and clear.”

Today’s question: What Bible verses shift your focus from getting out of difficult circumstances to getting something out of them?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Contending – harder than conceding”

Pain – sometimes a gift from God

“Pain is a result of the curse, and it’s most often a symptom of sin.  But sometimes it’s a gift from God.  It’s the language that can’t be ignored.  You can leave the Bible on your bedside table untouched.  You can ignore desires, dreams, doors, promptings, and people.  But you can’t ignore pain . . .”- Mark Batterson

As Mark Batterson continues Chapter 11 of Whisper, he stresses that many prominent people in Scripture endured dark nights of the soul.  However, they also had one additional, significant thing in common.  In their darkest hours they heard God’s whisper.  And by His grace, they all came out the other side.

Therefore, Pastor Batterson’s prayer for you isn’t that you’d be pain-free.  Rather, he prays that you discern God’s loving voice in the midst of your pain.

Most noteworthy, Mark posits that the healing of the lepers represents the miracle Jesus repeated more than any other.  Among other things, the author states, curing leprosy restored the leper’s sense of touch.  Because leprosy numbed those affected to the world around them, the disease caused great danger.  And when Jesus restored their sense of touch, that included both pleasure and pain.

Yet, as Mark explains, most of us prefer gain with no pain.  He writes:

“Let’s be honest.  Most of us prefer this philosophy: no pain, no pain.  We opt for the path of least resistance, but that doesn’t get us where God wants us to go.  I’m certainly not suggesting that we need to seek out pain.  Pain will find us soon enough.  But when pain comes, we shouldn’t try to go around it.  Instead, we need to go through it and learn to discern what God is saying through pain, through grief, and through suffering.”

Today’s question: What past pain in your life do you now see as a gift from God?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Getting out of difficult circumstances”

Pain gets our full attention

“Nothing gets our full attention like pain.  It breaks down false idols and purifies false motives.  It reveals where we need to heal, where we need to grow.  It refocuses our priorities like nothing else.  And pain is part and parcel of God’s sanctification process in our lives.”- Mark Batterson

“I would still have this consolation — my joy in unrelenting pain — that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.”- Job 6:10 (NIV)

In Chapter 11 (“Joystick”) of Whisper, Mark Batterson covers the seventh love language – pain.  Pastor Batterson begins as he cites Job 6:10.  Most noteworthy, Mark observes that the Hebrew word for “joy” in this passage from Job appears only once in Scripture.  Here the word refers to rare joy, extreme joy.  It’s a joy that doesn’t deny reality.  But, it defies reality!

Furthermore, Pastor Batterson writes, the most literal translation of this joy = “to leap like a horse so stones spark.”  Thus, it’s more than jumping for joy, Mark exhorts.  It means to dance on disappointment.

However, in the midst of adverse times, we may believe God’s turned His back on us.  As a result, we usually want to return the favor.  Hence, we turn our back on God.  Yet, that’s precisely the time we need to lean on and lean into Him.  Like Job, we must refuse to cut God off.  And we continue listening.

In conclusion, Mark dares to broach the subject of pain as a gift.  For without discomfort, we would:

  • repeatedly reinjure ourselves in the same way
  • simply maintain the status quo
  • ignore problems capable of killing us

During difficult times, we find God’s presence and hear His voice most clearly when we’re hurting.

Today’s question: How does pain focus your full attention on God?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Pain – sometimes a gift from God”

We spend ourselves on what we value the most

“Yes, we spend ourselves on what we value the most.  Whether it’s money, time, energy, or emotions, we pour ourselves out on the thing that we deem most worthy of our devotion.”- Ann Swindell

In Chapter 3 (“When Waiting Costs You Everything”) of Still Waiting, Ann Swindell discusses the high price of hiding.  On a personal note, Ann states that she found herself unable to untangle the lie from the truth.  Thus, she believed any brokenness tainted the successes in her life.  She failed to realize her daily failures with truth didn’t define her or negate her strengths.

But, Ann asks, at what cost?  Hiding her condition from her friends and teammates cost her a great deal.  Ann paid in time, energy, and friendships.  In contrast, friendships build on the back of brokenness.  Also, intimacy often stems from shared pain.

Furthermore, we feel desperate when we need something from God.  We frantically await His response and action.  To varying degrees, we all surrender time, energy, emotional wholeness, and sometimes money, to cover up our weakest places.

However, while desperation has it’s own cost, we face another cost in our painful places.  The cost of waiting.  Ms. Swindell explains:

“When we have to wait for God to move on our behalf — when we find ourselves at the end of whatever rope we’re hugging — it’s painful.  That’s because waiting demands that we pay . . . because when we are forced to wait for God’s work — for his healing, for his provision, for his answer — the waiting itself becomes a high cost.  We come to a point in waiting for his breakthrough when it feels like too much to bear.  The waiting is the thing that hurts — sometimes even more than the initial pain we faced.”

Today’s question: How do we spend ourselves on what we value the most?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The cost of waiting — payment of our self-sufficiency”

The sorrows of our lives – God’s weaning process

“The sorrows of our lives are in great part his [God’s] weaning process.  We give our hearts over to so many things other than God.  We look to so many other things for life.”- John Eldredge

As John Eldredge continues the Fall section of Walking with God, he states we’re vulnerable as long as we tie our happiness to things we can love.  In fact, the author notes a propensity in himself and everyone he knows- a stubborn inclination to view the world in only one way.  That way?  A chance to live a happy life.

Yet, the first and greatest command is to love God with our entire being.  And God’s given us many good and beautiful things in our fallen world.  John explains how to reconcile those two thoughts.  He writes:

“We are created to enjoy life.  But we end up worshiping the gift instead of the Giver.  We seek for like and look to God as our assistant in the endeavor.  We are far more upset when things go wrong than we ever are when we aren’t close to God.  And so Gold must, from time to time, and sometimes very insistently, disrupt our lives so that we release our grasping of life here and now. ”

Usually, the author notes, this disruption comes through pain.  However, our first reaction most often consists of getting angry with God.  This only serves to make John’s point.   We don’t really look to God for life.  We’re surprised by the course of events because we fail to see “the process of our life as coming to the place where we are fully his and he is our all.”

In conclusion, John makes a point to stress that he’s not suggesting God causes all pain in our lives.  But pain does come, and we must deal with it.  For example, what does our pain reveal?  How might God redeem our pain?  Most importantly, John urges, don’t waste your pain.

Today’s question: How has God used the sorrows of your life as a weaning process?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Our desire to have a nice little life”

How we define the word good

“One of the reasons we have a hard time believing that God’s grace is working for good in our lives is because of how we define the word good.  We have our own ideas of how God should work for our good . . .”- Kyle Idleman

Pastor Kyle Idleman concludes Chapter 10 of Grace Is Greater as he talks about how we define the word good.  We tend to believe that if God works everything for our good, the results should match how we define the word good.  Conversely, when adversity strikes, we feel that God’s failed to keep His promises.

However, Kyle observes, God’s grace works in the midst of our pain to bring about goodness in two ways:

  1. God’s grace works in your pain to draw you closer to Jesus.  The worst thing that ever happened to you ends up as the best thing that ever happened.  Why?  Because that event brought you closer to Jesus.
  2. God’s grace works in your pain to make you more like Jesus.  God uses all you’ve been through to make you more like Jesus.  Therefore, your pain always has a purpose.  And when pain has a purpose, we’re able to find the strength to endure.

In conclusion, Kyle finds it helpful to distinguish between reason and purpose.  That’s because we don’t always know if there’s a reason for our pain.  But, we do know that God, in His grace, always provides a purpose.  Hence, Pastor Idleman compares reason and purpose.

Reason:

  • looks for a because
  • wants a logical explanation that makes sense out of what happened

Purpose:

  • focuses on the for
  • offers us a hope that God is able to work good out of what happened

As Kyle encourages, just keep reading.

Today’s question: How do you define the word good?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: the Annotated Bibliography of Grace Is Greater