Tag Archives: Surprise Sithole

Growing in God despite Disappointment: Pause, ponder and praise

During my last article, we learned about growing through perseverance.  Seasons of the “pause button” can work in us peace, pruning, peace and preparation for later seasons.  God does deep heart surgery in our hearts at this time.  We can turn these times into times of worship.

We also learned during an earlier article of the peculiar combination of suffering and joy.  God’s grace is such that he empowers us with joy as we trust him in very difficult circumstances.  This isn’t just about the refiner’s fire of life – it’s about living a victorious life despite suffering.  Examples of people who do this include Heidi and Rolland Baker, Supresa Sithole and more.  They also live a life of worship in the midst.  They are grateful for all God does in their lives and ministry.  They praise God often.

Some people call pause seasons time in the desert.  I’ve spoken about this as well.  Deserts can be even more refining than regular waiting seasons, but they are necessary to refine us. This is when we learn to let God refine us from the fear that holds us back, like Hannah Hurnard’s character called “Much Afraid” in her book Hinds Feet in High Places. The desert can transform the image we have of ourselves as well as our image of God. These false images we stored in our hearts are shattered in the desert. Once they are destroyed, we can then see and discover what is real about God. We are transformed as we journey on in four unique desert gifts: spiritual transformation, psychological change, a new role and a new future.

That transformation can take further seasons in the desert for pause and reflection.   I shared about this in an earlier broadcast about persevering what I called seasons of the “pause button.”  Yet even in seasons where we are gladly busy and moving along, we have disappointments.  Some of these are small, and some are deep.  In the midst of the waiting, or the pause, as I like to call it, is an opportunity to assess and remember God’s faithfulness.  Iris base leader Surprise Sithole has endured much persecution and trauma in his life, yet he is always filled with joy.  Every day can be a good day.  His attitude towards pausing is that waiting on God is worship.

I recently read Philip Yancey’s book Disappointment with God. He deals with our human view of personal disappointment and suffering, and then God’s view through Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  He shares that three questions surface in human suffering. These are:  Where is God?  Why is God silent?  And Why is life unfair?

Sometimes it seems like God is absent in the midst of pain and darkness. This especially is shown in the middle chapters of the book of Job, although the first chapter and last chapters reveal that God had been there all along. The story had a good ending. The Old Testament showed God the Father as so holy that he was nearly unapproachable in the temple, and showed himself in a burning bush and other miracles. While he is invisible, he made himself clearly known. However, most of the people cowered in fear so most did not seek him out, which was his deepest desire.  His love was rejected except for the prophets and David, who was known as a man after God’s own heart. When the Israelites turned away in sin and worshipped idols, it broke God’s heart like a spurned lover.

It was the Israelite’s way, and later the Pharisee’s way to demand signs, and miracles.  And yet their hearts did not come close to the God of miracles.  God doesn’t like to be put to the test. Listen to Mark chapter 8. Even Jesus response towards the demand for a sign showed his disappointment “When he heard [the Pharisees’ request], he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why do these people keep demanding a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, I will not give this generation any such sign.”  So he got back into the boat and left them, and he crossed to the other side of the lake.”  Miracles may catch our attention, but it is love that changes hearts.

Then Jesus came to earth as a human being. He was neither silent, not invisible.  He was approachable. He still is. Then he showed his love when he died for us. He was resurrected, and sent the Holy Spirit to live inside us, so we could experience that love all the time.  So if we have faith in Jesus Christ, God never leaves us. He is always Emmanuel, God with us, through the Holy Spirit. So God is not absent, nor is he silent; although there are times that it seems like he is.  Sometimes that’s when we’re asking the “why” question, or shouting at God, “life isn’t fair!”  Life isn’t fair.  We are NOT immune from suffering.  And we see unfairness and suffering all around us. God is working out an answer to this pain through US.  Sometimes we feel sorry for ourselves and forget that we can make a difference.  WE can do something as Matthew West sings in his song “Do Something.”

“Why” questions are often difficult, since we are steeped in self-pity. Quite often we struggle most not only from the pain of difficult times, but from our own attitude of self-pity.   This attitude is reflected by the sayings, “poor little old me,”  “pity me,” “what about me?” and one that I learned in an inner healing school I took in the 1990’s.  It was “PLOMS” disease:  poor, little old me syndrome.  This outlook doubles or triples the pain you’re in and focuses either just on your or on your circumstances.  Sometimes cartoonists draw someone like this under a perpetual raincloud.  They can’t see the sunshine that is just beyond the cloud, nor the rainbow that accompanies the sunshine after the rain.  This attitude shows up as Eeyore, the depressed donkey that is a friend of the Winnie the Pooh character. He is always saying, “Oh, well.”

While there is a place for not rushing the process of genuine grief, self-pity can keep you stuck for weeks, months and even years.  Leanne Payne called this ‘descending into the hell of self,’ which essentially makes you your own worst enemy.  I know this personally, since I often fell into this mode of thought.  My Australian friend Jan went with me to experience a Leanne Payne Pastoral Care Ministry School in Wheaton. I received deep emotional healing for past abuse, and the beginning of healing for crushed will issues.  Yet one part of my healing was to lift off a cloak of shame and self-pity.  Even though I had a larger degree of freedom, I had to choose to walk as a free person.  We develop habits and coping skills that are based on lies we believe about ourselves, our environment and God. When we deal with these, and also form healthier habits, we maintain our freedom.

Pause:  So we pause and reflect. The Russian Christians have a wonderful attitude of pausing in a retreat.  That’s not a retreat that goes backwards, but a retreat to spend time with God. They call this cabin in the woods a poustinia, where they seek God in silence and solitude. Jesus also often went to solitary places to pray and spend time with the Father. We need to do this as well.  This is when we can come to Jesus with our broken hearts and disappointments.  He is still with us and cares.  Don’t harbour it in your heart and get bitter.  Stop going around in circles in the desert of disappointment.  I had a friend who did this.  Let’s say his name is Jack. Jack became bitter and continually railed against God because he wanted a wife.  He fell in love with another friend of mine, who was in love with two men – Jack and Ted.  She finally decided for Ted, rather than Jack. I don’t think Jack ever got over it.  And so Jack stayed in his disappointment and did not move on, until just recently. He made an announcement on Facebook that he just got married, but gave no details.  At least I hope he’s happy.

Ponder:   Once we stop and pause, look up and ponder.  Look all around you.  Are you still under that rain cloud? Or are you ready for a second touch from God?  Jesus is with us.

Our Afrikaans pastor Johan shared about God’s second touch, through the Gospel of Mark, chapter 8.  Let’s take a look at that chapter.  Jesus had encountered blind men several times in his ministry. One of the times is written about in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 8.  It was the time that Jesus made a mud poultice to put on the blind man’s eyes.   The man had to be prayed over more than once.  The first touch restored the man’s sight, but he could only see in a very blurry way.  People looked to him like trees.

This showed that even Jesus sometimes had to give a second touch for healing prayer.  Healing has come, but not in its fullness.  Johan shared that we should content that God has touched us in the past, but not satisfied with mediocrity.  So let’s turn the disappointment around.  Yes, there is a need.  Just think – Jesus didn’t want that man to be stuck in limbo.  In his case, the second touch came right away, and Jesus prayed again.  Often that completion of healing comes later on. Johan told us prophetically that we may be satisfied with a little touch, but God actually isn’t.  He has a second touch coming our way.  Since he is the one who gave us saving faith, he is the one who will complete us in all ways.  God did not create us to have half of our destinies.  So while we pause, ponder and consider all our little blessings. While you are counting them, he just may surprise you with what you need.  The Apostle Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:15 to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.”  May you fill us with that peace, Lord as we ponder you.

Praise:  Once we know that we can trust God, we can take time and praise him.  We thank him take the focus off of ourselves.  We were never in control anyway – it was always just an illusion. It can be difficult to be thankful, but if you make a habit of it, your eyes will open at all the little blessings in your life.

Here’s an example of what praise and thanksgiving can do in scripture. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were on a mission trip in Philippi, Greece.  Paul got annoyed by a girl who was demonized, because the spirit drew attention to itself.  After the girl was delivered, her owners were angry that the girl could no longer tell fortunes.  This had an effect on their finances.  So they reported them to the authorities with lies, and they were publicly beaten and thrown into prison. “The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. 24 So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.

 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. 26 Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! 27 The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. 28 But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!”  Did you notice what Paul and Silas did in the midst of being in prison?  They were singing worship songs!  They were praising God in the midst of their trial!  I’ve heard other mission stories that are similar, although deliverance didn’t always happen that fast.

Psalming:  Finally, there is another step in pausing, pondering and praising.  It’s Psalming.  There are 150 Psalms right in the middle of the Bible.  King David was one of Psalm writers. He had a pattern of complaining to God of difficult circumstances, asked God what he was going to do about it, and poured out his heart in distress.  But always at the end, he chose to trust God.  Either he asked for vindication due to God being just, or he just chose to trust God in that situation. In Psalm 4, he declared that God would keep him safe so he could sleep.  In Psalm 5, he declared that God was a shield of protecting love. Psalm 6 declares that God has heard David’s prayer.  Psalm 7 ends in thanks, and 8 ends with praise. Psalm 13 ends with trust, David sang, “But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me. I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me.” And so, the pattern of complaint, praise and trust continues.

My seminary professor David taught me a course called Foundations of Christian spirituality.  One of the topics he shared was about writing your own psalm in difficult times.  It allows one to pour out their grief and sorrow, and then offer it back to the Lord.  That emotion could also show more than sorrow – there are one or two psalms in the Bible that were written in anger. If you remember reading about dashing babies against rocks, this was an example of something akin to road rage.  Does God condone infanticide?  Absolutely not.  But he does understand anger, and you can bring whatever that is in your heart to him.   Together with him, he can give you peace as you work through your feelings.  It could be then that you get your second touch.

So remember to pause.  Look up to God, past your disappointments.  He is not silent.  He is with us.  Then ponder. You are not forgotten.  You are in the midst of a process where he is making you beautiful.  And Psalm, like David.  Pour out your heart to him in your own poem.  Then turn it around as a declaration of trust or thanks.  You’ll find that you’ll grow in the process.   You might even write a song through the experience.  Let me pray over you.

Lord, thank you that you never leave us.  I ask you to help us pause and look up to you, no matter our disappointment.  A delay is not a no.  Help us ponder all the wonder you’ve created around us. There is suffering but there is also beauty and joy.  Help us praise and be thankful for each thing you’ve given us.  And help us to psalm – to remember your loving kindness.  To help us turn our perspective from the pit, to the plain, to the mountain top. You never leave us.  Fill my friends with your peace.  In Jesus’ name.

Love and blessings, Laurie-Ann
Waystogrowingod.org and coppleswesterncape.ca

If you’d like to hear the audio version of this talk, please visit the Ways to Grow in God podcast page on our Copples missionary website, then scroll down to Podcast 25.

 

Advertisements

Growing in Gratitude: Paradox and Ministry

Chalice

Last time we discovered that it is possible to eliminate negativity and complaining in our lives though a lifestyle of thankfulness and gratitude.  In February (2015), I attempted to go on a negativity fast for Lent, and it was for the most part- successful.  However, there were challenges. After I declared that this was a fast for God, not only were everyday challenges more of an uphill battle, but there were other difficulties that made some days “screaming days.”  Difficulties were exacerbated by: roller-coaster hormones (after all, I am in the menopause stage of my life), financial stretching, an overlapping schedule with different ministries, a lack of sleep, and even more important, I felt like my life was stuck behind a giant pause button.  During that time, I had to lean very heavily on the Lord for extra grace.  I had to believe (along with the Apostle Paul) that God’s grace “is sufficient for [me], for [God’s] power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 9).

Cup of Thanksgiving overflows
Some people could see my initial efforts as wimpy.  Full-time missioners and missionaries often minister no matter how tired they feel.  Many workers in the secular world work very long hours, as I did in the radio broadcasting world. I am not one for encouraging burn-out, for we all need Sabbath times of rest. Yet sometimes we are simply worn out not by work, but by complaining, bitterness and negative attitudes.  So when you give thanks in all things (1 Thess. 5:18), your cup is no longer half empty like the pessimist. Your cup is far more full than the optimist’s half-full glass.  Looking at the glass isn’t just about perspective, although it does include seeing life through different eyes. The eyes of a thankful Christian are opened to what God is doing in us and around us.  This isn’t just a human thing – it’s a supernatural thing.  Your eyes become open to the “more.” This is how the cup turns from being half-full to overflowing. The Psalmist says “You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:5)  The overflowing cup is a symbol of being so full of the Holy Spirit that God’s glory and love easily spill out of you.  That’s exactly the time that God works through you, because it is clear that you are more than the “natural you.”

Cup of Suffering and of Joy
Our cup is also a cup of Jesus’ pain and suffering. “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16) The Apostle Paul talks about sharing the ‘fellowship’ of Christ’s suffering as part of truly knowing him. (Phil 3:10)  How can gratitude and suffering be in the same cup? How can we experience joy in the midst of suffering?  How can we encounter God’s glory in the midst of suffering? Are we even willing to suffer alongside Christ? This cup of suffering is what Jesus drank when he died for us (Matt 26:26-27, Mark 14:22-23, Luke 22:17,19). While we don’t have to go through crucifixion as Jesus did, we do go through suffering and times of difficulty. Sometimes we even go through persecution because of our faith in Jesus Christ and ministry for him. Jesus walks alongside us, and he carries us through these difficulties.  When we thank him in the midst of difficulties, we acknowledge his presence, and allow him to work in our hearts despite the refining fire of challenges. We aren’t suffering alone. Jesus is with us.

Suffering and Gratitude
Suffering can make us bitter or cause us to grow.  If we keep a good attitude of thankfulness, the suffering actually refines us.  It takes us through a process which builds in us perseverance, character and hope (Romans 5:3-4). When you keep thankful in such circumstances, it helps keeps your eyes centred on what God is doing in your life.  The process actually is circular – we start with thankfulness and end up in gratitude.  Thankfulness acknowledges who God is and how he is working in your life, despite the difficulties.  Gratitude is the growing state of your heart as God uses the refining process to create good soil.  This good soil is the same believing, faithful heart that Jesus refers to in the parable of the sower (Mark 4:3-20).

Recently, my husband and I returned from a trip to Williamsburg, Virginia. We spent special time with our dear family-friends in the Iris Virginia church. The visiting worship leader, Jonathan David Pettit,  prophesied over me that I was like “spiritual Miracle Grow” (a plant fertilizer).  He told me that “because I had not allowed my heart to become bitter, despite the ‘crap’ in my life, he was using me overcoming these experiences as fertile soil.” He would use these experiences to help others overcome their difficulties. He would use me as a cheerleader for other’s dreams, because I had ‘been there.’ In the moments Jonathan shared, I had a profound sense of gratitude for God working out the messes in my life in a way that gives God glory.

How do we develop this heart of gratitude?  Perhaps the best way is by disciplining ourselves to stay thankful, no matter what we encounter.  Gratitude becomes a growing response we develop, and God deepens his imprint in our lives. Our eyes and ears become increasingly more open to his love and blessings, and our faith and compassion for others deepen.  We begin to develop a fruit of gratitude as we believe God’s promises and grow more thankful; this is similar to how one develops the fruit of the Spirit.

What is the fruit of the Spirit? These are: “love, joy, peace, forbearance (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23).  We grow in response to what God is doing in our lives, and if we keep a good attitude, we are thankful. Henri Nouwen taught that when we encounter the fruit of the Spirit in others, we experience them as gifts. When we continue to be surprised by new manifestations of life and continue to praise and thank God and our neighbour, routine and boredom cannot take hold. Then all of life becomes a reason for saying thanks. Thus, fruitfulness and gratitude can never be separated.” (Lifesigns 70-71) Thus, “gratitude flows from the recognition that all that is, is a divine gift born of love; it is freely given to us so that we may offer thanks and share it with others.” (Robert Jonas, “Henry Nouwen” P 69).

Paradox of Gratitude, suffering and ministry: “How to have a Good Day”
So gratitude grows despite the paradox, and because of the presence of the Holy Spirit, gratitude can grow deeper alongside the paradox of suffering and joy.  Earlier I mentioned about people working tirelessly despite having difficult circumstances.  Some people could call that having a bad day, but they still press on with what they have to do.  Iris leader Surprise Sithole believes that it is always possible to “have a good day” despite circumstances, and he passed this belief on to missionaries Rolland and Heidi Baker.  Rolland shares, “One day we [Surprise and Rolland] were running a bush outreach meeting in Malawi, and on this day, Surprise delivered what was, for me, his most memorable sermon.  Malawi had been in famine most of the year. The crops had failed. It was extremely hot, almost 50 degrees C. The people hadn’t had any proper food in months. A lot of people were sick, and the bubonic plague had just come to this particular village.  Surprise’s sermon that day was entitled, “How to have a Good Day.”  No matter where we are or how bleak the circumstances, Surprise is always having the best day of his life. Irrepressible joy like this culturally clashes with much of the church.  I didn’t like it myself for a long time.

What I’ve learned, though, is that we minister to others out of the places in our lives where God has ministered to us. God works in us to produce a miracle, and we minister that miracle to others.  God has given Surprise the gift of joy.  When he ministers, the Lord uses this joy, supernaturally, to touch others. Some might think it inappropriate.  Actually, it is entirely inappropriate. He is bringing an authentic expression of joy to those who have none, and Jesus is producing joy in them.  Think about what Jesus has done in your life and how you express it to others, sharing His blessing.”  (Heidi and Rolland Baker, Reckless Devotion. P 23-24)

Gratitude and “Miracle Grow”
Surprise has grown in the paradox of suffering and joy (read his book Voice in the Night) through thankfulness and gratitude to the Lord. It shines out of everything he does in ministry, and Heidi Baker is very similar.  When you hear Heidi share at the end of the Compelled by Love film, she looks over her life and ministry and says that she is so grateful to Jesus for all he has done – in their ministry and generally for his sacrifice and love for all of us.   Earlier Jonathan David said that I was becoming like Miracle Grow.  However, gratitude in the midst of difficulties, gratitude in the midst of outreach and ministry is an important key to growth in these conditions.  It is one of the keys of the persecuted church that connects joy and suffering.

Earlier I mentioned Henri Nouwen.  I had the privilege of meeting him when I was a student at University of Toronto.  He spoke at St Michael’s and talked about putting our brokenness under the blessing of the Lord.  He would heal our wounds, then minister through them to others. Jesus embraces all of our lives, the sorrow, the joy and every moment.  Nothing is separate from God.  “Jesus calls us to recognize the gladness and sadness are never separate, that joy and sorrow really belong together, and that mourning and dancing are part of the same movement.  That is why Jesus calls us to be grateful for every moment that we have lived and to claim our unique journey as God’s way to mould our hearts to greater conformity with God’s own. The cross is the main symbol of our faith, and it invites us to find hope where we see pain and to reaffirm the resurrection where we see death. The call to be grateful is a call to trust that every moment of our life can be claimed as the way of the cross that leads us to new life.   (Henri Nouwen, “All is Grace” 39-40)

So gratitude directs us to where the Father would lead – since it keeps our eyes on God.  He leads us into action, and he leads us into rest; all depending on the season he puts us in.  That is the paradox. Suffering and joy? Gratitude in the midst of difficulties? Can we even figure out thankfulness and gratitude?  Not entirely – but we have spent five posts on this aspect of our faith.  It is one that goes well beyond a feeling of being blessed to being carried into what God has for us.  Gratitude should be unending, because our faith journey does not stop.  Jesus is always leading us somewhere.

Next time we will further explore the cup of suffering and joy. It’s a lesson the persecuted church through the ages can teach all of us.  Until then, be blessed, and grow in God.

Blessings,
Laurie-Ann

Laurie-Ann lives in Ottawa, Canada.  She works for Kingdom Culture Ministries (in Gloucester, Ontario) in social media/pastoral care and administration. She attends that church and St Paul’s Anglican Church in Kanata, Ontario.  She is available to speak to small or large groups on a faith donation basis.

 L-A on KCM social media in Wburg

Laurie-Ann working remotely on social media-pastoral care ministry