Monthly Encouraging Words
June, 2020 | Barbara Fiscus, M.A., CCLC
This has been a long, difficult month. It started out with the news that the health of a family friend for whom we had been praying had taken a sharp turn for the worse. On the same day, I received word that my aunt had been taken to the hospital and was requiring emergency surgery. Three days later, our friend passed; three weeks later, my aunt.
In the midst of these personal losses, I also feel grieved about the ongoing, increasing division in our country over seemingly every conceivable issue, frustrated about the overgeneralized finger-pointing and hatred; and angry about the rioting, looting, vandalizing and terrorizing we are witnessing. Finally, in addition to these large-scale issues, we had some family discord occur, which plucks the already tight heartstrings even more. Suffice it to say, I had some moments of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
Even as I list these things, I know there are many, many people around the world experiencing this and so much more. In fact, I add their worries to my own sometimes. These are the kinds of pits that can swallow us whole if we don’t throw out a grappling hook to stop the fall. So, since we can’t escape our realities, how do we escape the slide into hopelessness that is our enemy’s intention?
While there is no single one-size-fits-all answer, a good first step is to pray. Times like these bring us face-to-face with our faith and reveal where we really stand on the trusting self/trusting God continuum. Perhaps the most obvious measure is our level of fear versus peace. Trust in self? Fear. Trust in God? Peace. I admit that the needle on my meter too often dips below the middle line where fear begins to take over. Prayer--and spiritual warfare--help move the needle closer to peace.
Unfortunately, it seems that desperation is sometimes the necessary catalyst to fuel the passion of my prayers. Whether in communion with God or in battle with Satan, there is power in the sincerity of a raw and hurting heart. That power isn’t always evident by the time I finish praying; on the contrary, I typically don’t sense that anything has happened at all. However, I often later recognize there has been a release, whether in my circumstances or my emotions surrounding them. Either way, the freedom is welcome and certainly worth the pursuit.
There are two concepts that I have found helpful in my prayer life. One is to focus on God’s presence with me as I am praying. It’s easy to default to talking to God as if He is “out there somewhere,” but being more mindful about picturing Him there with me, hearing my prayer, makes it feel more intimate. We all have the need to be seen and heard. How much more comforting to feel that with our Father God!
When I do this, I usually begin by imagining how I look to God in that moment. I may be in my car in a pullout by the side of the road, in my bed reaching my heart toward Heaven, or on my knees, bent over with my face to the floor. Wherever I am, I see myself from the outside looking in--first, from afar, with a zoomed-out perspective. Then, I imagine Him closer, looking down on me from the ceiling. Sometimes, I start my prayer by affirming, “God, You see me. You are here with me now and Your heart is for me. Thank You for loving me.” This reminder of my position to Him, both physically and emotionally, helps me to feel closer to His heart.
The other thing that has been helpful, especially this month, is the reassurance that I don’t have to know what to pray for. At the time when we received the news of our friend’s rapid decline, he had been in and out of the hospital (mostly in) for several months. My first response was a panicked, “No!” Then, an urgent, “Please, God! Heal him! Bring a miracle!” I felt so helpless. What could I DO? I struggled to make sense of the situation so I could somehow find a way to control the outcome. I felt guilty: maybe if I had prayed harder, more often or with greater faith, things would be different. I wasn’t ready to give up. I wanted to contend for him until it was too late.
At the same time, I wrestled with the thought that perhaps my prayers were selfish. I knew that, given the choice between Heaven and that hospital room, our friend would pick Heaven every time. Yet, I couldn’t accept that answer. I was at a loss. While I certainly believed God could heal our friend, I lacked the faith that He would. And anything short of a miracle wouldn’t be what he or we wanted. I couldn’t ask God to simply save our friend from death, holding him back from paradise just to continue what wasn’t really “living” on earth. But I wasn’t willing to just let go.
Romans 8:26 says that “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (ESV). That was me. I was weak and didn’t know anymore what to pray for. I chose to continue to ask for a miracle, but relinquished the rest to God. I poured out my heart to Him, but then affirmed that He was good and resolved to trust Him, no matter what. I reminded myself again--for the umpteenth time in the last few months--that God doesn’t call me to understand; He calls me to trust. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NKJV).
We need to lean less on our understanding and abilities, even to pray “as we ought.” The Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD” (Isaiah 11:2, ESV) prays on our behalf. The Bible also says, “Christ Jesus…is at the right hand of God…interceding for us” (Romans 8:34, ESV). In fact, He “always lives to make intercession” for those “who draw near to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25, ESV). It matters more to God that we pray than what we pray. He wants us to share our hearts more than our minds. Yes, our words are important, but God has lovingly made a grace provision for those moments in which words escape us.
In these times, when the world at large--and perhaps, our personal world--seems to be upside-down and incomprehensible, it is critical to stay connected to God. We must continue to pray even when we feel at a loss, and to trust His character even when we don’t understand. Praying can simply be an expression of thanksgiving or a declaration of love.
In addition to prayer, this is a time to be seeking God in other ways as well. We are wise to read the Bible daily and to be open to “hearing” from Him in various ways. Of late, God has been communicating His heart and desires to me through His Word.
Mid-month, when I was feeling weary with the prevalence of sad news, God led me repeatedly, through devotions and other sources, to a certain verse in Scripture. When I saw it for the third time in about as many days, it clicked that He was trying to say something to me. I grabbed a marker and wrote the words on a mirror in my room: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13, ESV). I have fed from this ever since. Though the world may not give me much reason to hope, my God does. He truly is “the God of hope,” and His desire is to fill me with joy and peace.
I believe God works through people, and the encouragement He gives to one is also intended for others. The author of Hebrews said, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV). If this encouraged you, please share it with someone else who may benefit. We need all the hope we can get!