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Faith, Hearing God, Revealing Jesus, surrender

Finding Jesus in the Center of My Pain

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Ugly tears coursed down my cheeks. Why? How could this have happened? The betrayal hit me like a gut punch. I wanted to scream it all away, or at the very least tear someone apart with my bare fingernails. But even that wouldn’t make it better, wouldn’t erase what I was going through. I felt so alone.

The hurt felt worse than a knife. It felt like a massive, crushing weight obliterating every inch of who I’d been. And I was left alone to pick up the pieces, not even sure I could.

Sometimes, the hardships we go through seem unimaginable: A difficult, completely unfair illness cutting us down in the prime of our life. Debilitating financial or legal issues that seem to have no way out. Crushing betrayal or other emotional or physical violation. It’s the opposite of how we think life should go.

In the midst of my pain, I was on my own. I knew no one who’d been through what I was experiencing. There was no one I could confide in who’d truly understand. Talking to a counselor brought temporary relief but no real solutions. Blocking it out and staying as busy as possible only worked for so long.

Then came Jesus. In the darkness, in the depths of my pain, I realized: He knew. I didn’t even have to open my mouth to share any of the scary or nitty-gritty details, because He saw them up-close and personal.

Not only that, but He’d been there, too.

In the depths of my #pain, I realized: #Jesus knew. I didn’t have to share any of the scary or nitty-gritty details, because He saw them up-close and personal. He'd been there, too. Click To Tweet

He’d experienced the worst pain, the deepest betrayal, the hardest suffering—none of it deserved, and all of it something He could stop if only He caved to temptation. Yet our Savior chose to bear the cup of sacrifice and endure. And it hurt Him—so very, very badly.

But for some reason, I’d never before understood this. Growing up, I’d been taught Jesus died on the cross, but His suffering seemed abstract. In paintings depicting the crucifixion, the holes from the nails had a bit of blood, and Jesus was frowning beneath His crown of thorns, but it was all rather contained—a PG version of what He’d really been through. Then His suffering was over and, whoosh! Our Savior was dressed in head-to-toe white with a glowing golden halo, smiling like He’d never been gasping for His last breath or sobbing from the pain of being sold for thirty pieces of silver by one of His twelve best friends.

But when I encountered Jesus in my sorrow, it wasn’t the Sunday school, family-friendly version kneeling beside me as I collapsed before Him in a darkened room with my prayer of surrender. It was the scarred-up Jesus, the One who remembered the ragged bloodstained holes from where they’d driven the nails in, who didn’t wince as they beat Him but cried out in agony, who didn’t just quietly and stoically accept that Judas let Him down but ached over the treachery.

This Jesus understood. And when I realized that, and I allowed him to meet me in my suffering, I was no longer alone.

Jesus never promised a life free of hardship when we became Christian. Suffering is universal. But it’s a shared suffering when we walk with Jesus, which makes all the difference.

Jesus never promised a life free of hardship when we became Christian. Suffering is universal. But it’s a shared #suffering when we walk with #Jesus, which makes all the difference. Click To Tweet

In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (ESV).” These aren’t just words on a page. There is true rest, a peace, in knowing Jesus has been there, too, and can ease our burden.

There is true rest, a #peace, in knowing #Jesus has been there, too, and can ease our burden. Click To Tweet

But not only is there rest, but also hope. While Jesus did suffer, His suffering ended. He overcame. He triumphed. As He told His disciples in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Many years have passed since my tough time, and sometimes it feels like it didn’t happen to me at all, but rather to a character in a book I read. I still go through hard times, when I want to throw myself on the bed and cry, when I want to give up and surrender.

Yet now I have a secret weapon: I know God is with me in the center of my pain. And that, like nothing else, helps move me towards healing.

Grace

Moving From Guilt to Freedom

I was a mess during my teen and young adult years. I blamed everyone else for my self-destructing life: If my circumstances hadn’t been so chaotic, I never would’ve dropped out of high school. If certain interactions hadn’t been so painful and unstable, I never would’ve turned to alcohol. And if so-n-so hadn’t said such-n-such, I never would’ve reacted as I had.

This type of victim-mentality robbed me of the strength to change and distanced me from God’s mercy and grace. To experience the freedom of forgiveness, of being absolved completely, that Christ offered, I first needed to grasp my need for it. Click To Tweet

I had to honestly evaluate not just my life, not just my outward behavior, but my sinful heart as well.

Honest self-evaluation is hard. Admitting our sin truthfully, not only to ourselves, but to God, can feel even harder. It takes great humility to acknowledge what God already knows—that we’re worse than we’d imagined and are helpless, in our own power, to change. Often there’s an additional challenge that often holds us in fear when we could be living in the freedom of grace: we’re afraid of rejection. Scared of being cut off entirely. Because that’s often what we’ve experienced from others.

An acquaintance grew up in a controlling household where love was conditional and tied to behavior. When she acted a certain way and others were pleased with her, they welcomed her close. When she disappointed them, she was disregarded and pushed away.

Maybe that resonates with you. Many of us have experienced similar interactions, whether with family, friends, or with our significant others. As a result, we can unknowingly carry a similar expectation into our relationship with God, and we likely aren’t even aware we’ve done so.

Here’s where God’s different. Whereas others might say, “You messed up. You blew it,” and cuts us off, Christ said, in essence, “You messed up, and I’m going to draw you near.” Click To Tweet But He did even more than that. When He stretched out His arms wide and died on the cross for our sins, He said, in essence, “Sweet daughter, you really made a mess of things. Of your life, your relationship with others. Your relationship with Me. And so I’m drawing near.”

Whereas others might say, “You messed up. You blew it,” and cuts us off, Christ said, in essence, “You messed up, and I’m going to draw you near.”Our Savior’s love is different than any we’ve ever known. Click To Tweet

When our sin separated us from Him, Christ took the first step to bridge that gap. Click To Tweet He took the first step, then the next, and then the next after that, pursuing us with His last breath, quite literally, to welcome us in. This demonstrates, where sin abounds, as serious and destructive as it may be, God’s grace abounds all the more, for God’s steadfast, unshakable love never ceases, and His mercies truly are new each morning (Rom. 5:20, Lamentations 3:22-23).

Scholars believe Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, wrote that last phrase, shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem. He’d spent a good chunk of his adult life warning the Israelites to turn from their idolatrous ways and back to God, but His children persisted in their sin. And after generations of rebellion and idolatry, they were finally experiencing the consequences.

Jeremiah, a prophet who loved God and had remained faithful, witnessed the destruction of his beloved homeland. The city and their beloved temple had been reduced to rubble, and the people became destitute.

Mourning all that had been lost, Jeremiah didn’t say, “Why me? This isn’t fair, God.” No, instead, he said, “See, O Lord, how distressed I am! I am in torment within, and in my heart I am disturbed, for I have been most rebellious.”

This from the man who could’ve prayed, “I, only I, have remained faithful.”

Scholars debate whether he was speaking of his own sins or of those made by the nation as a whole, but regardless, we know he sinned. According to Scripture, we all have. We’ve failed to live and love as we should, whether we’re harboring selfish thoughts or displaying selfish actions. I do both a thousand times each day, and when confronted with my wretchedness, it’s tempting to divert blame. To justify and make excuses, but though doing so might feel “safe” in the moment, it only leads to increased bondage.

To find freedom, I need to take an honest look at the sin-wrought rubble of my life, focus on the love and goodness of God, and like Jeremiah did in the next chapter over, cast myself upon the One whose mercies never fail.

Because “the Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the One who seeks Him; it is good to wait quietly on the salvation of the Lord” (Lam. 3:25-26).

Let’s talk about this! Have you received the forgiveness Christ offers and the freedom that follows? If not, and you would like to learn more about finding ultimate and eternal absolution, please contact us HERE. If you’ve already experienced God’s cleansing grace, are you walking in that? Or are you interpreting spiritual distance that isn’t there, that Christ died to remove? How might remembering His reaction to our sin help you rest more deeply in His embrace, not just when you’re acting in a way that pleases Him, but when you mess up as well?

Join our online book club to learn to rest, daily, in God's grace! Click To Tweet

Book club inviteWe want to help you live in the freedom of God’s grace! Join us for a five week online book discussion club to discuss the Ragamuffin Gospel, a book that was truly transformative in Jennifer’s life. You can find the book HERE.

From the back cover:

A Furious Love Is Hot on Your Trail! 

Many believers feel stunted in their Christian growth. We beat ourselves up over our failures and, in the process, pull away from God because we subconsciously believe He tallies our defects and hangs His head in disappointment. In this newly repackaged edition—now with full appendix, study questions, and the author’s own epilogue, “Ragamuffin Fifteen Years Later,” Brennan Manning reminds us that nothing could be further from the truth. The Father beckons us to Himself with a “furious love” that burns brightly and constantly. Only when we truly embrace God’s grace can we bask in the joy of a gospel that enfolds the most needy of His flock—the “ragamuffins.”

This club will be hosted on our Facebook Group and through Zoom video. Contact us HERE for information on how to participate.

Plus, we have fun news! Our 90-day devotional is now available!

Cover image for Bible study devotionalDrawing Near: 90-Day Devotional:

Each day, God beckons us to Himself, calling us to rest in His love and grace. As we do, He heals our hurts, overpowers our fears with love, and restores us to the women He created us to be. This 90-day devotional, written by women who are learning themselves to live anchored in God’s grace, will help you deepen your faith and grow your relationship with Christ.

Buy it HERE.

 

Prayer

Obstacles That Hinder Prayer

Woman sitting in a field

Have you ever been hurt so badly you thought your heart was ripping from your chest? I have. One day after such a wounding I thought I was doing the right thing by praying for those who’d hurt me. After all, isn’t that the best form of loving your enemy? As I was praying for those who hurt me, and feeling quite good about myself, I heard God say, “Notify sender, mail returned.” You might be saying God doesn’t return prayers. Well, He might not, but He got my attention. Praying is indeed powerful, but it can be thwarted. Click To Tweet

Six Obstacles

Open the Bible and we quickly learn obstacles abound even for the most fervent and honest prayer warrior. To help you and I boldly stand before the throne, confident our prayers are getting through, let’s examine six key obstacles that may hinder those prayers, prevent our communion with God, or block our path to growth in this vital area of the Christian life.

Misplaced Goals

There’s much wisdom in the popular phrase: Joy is found in the journey, not the destination. When we pray our goal may be to affect a certain change in someone, but God’s goal may be to affect a regime-change on the throne of your life and mine. God alone wants to sit in this place of honor in our hearts. Click To TweetAs we surrender to Him, this will be a goal achieved, not at the end of the road as we might envision, but in increments along the way. Be open Image of woman staring toward trees with text pulled from post.to the possibility that while you’re praying your goal may not be God’s goal. Ask Him to reveal if this is one of those regime-change moments.

Unforgiveness

Just as there are layers to the effects of our sins, there are layers to the forgiveness process. In my own life, there are those whom I’ve forgiven a long, long time ago. Then something happens and the flood of emotions comes pouring back as if the wounds were freshly inflicted. Tenderly the Lord shows me more areas in my spirit in need of healing. Should I refuse, and leave these wounds to fester, my unforgiveness will block God’s power in my life, preventing healing. Over time, if you or I continue in this state, our hardness of heart deflects the voice of God. We won’t hear Him clearly. The solution? Ask God if there’s someone you need to forgive again or on a deeper level–He’ll show you and help you take that next step.

Unforgiveness blocks God's power in my life, prevents healing, hardens my heart, and deflects the voice of God. Click To Tweet

Misinterpretation of Scripture

Misinterpretation of Scripture can prevent us from properly hearing God because we’ve prejudiced the communication. It’s as if God’s speaking a different language. If we want to hear God in His native tongue, we must begin by looking at the context of Scriptures and understand how our personal context influences, or even changes, our reading. Any good Bible teacher will acknowledge the only way to properly hear God is to learn the language He’s using, not the language we want to impose on Him. How? Read before and after the verse; read the whole chapter and ask God to help you hear what He is saying. And invest in a good study Bible that outlines historical context you otherwise would miss.

The only way to properly hear God is to learn the language He's using. Click To Tweet

Loss of Community

Christianity is not a solitary practice. If we want to have the fullness of God’s presence in our lives, we must go where God is and begin by looking within the body of Christ. Simply said, we need each other to hear all of what God is saying. If we only rely on our own ear, we may be missing key portions of the message God is sending. Often God speaks through others to confirm what we are hearing in our heart or challenge us towards truth. This is why having godly friends is so important to the Christian life.

Too Many Choices, Too Many Voices:)

Every day we are confronted with a million decisions. Along with all those choices come many voices. How is one to hear God in the midst of all this noise? First, we must divorce ourselves from the need to control the outcome of things by idolizing choice. This is not to say we don’t make choices or care about the consequences of our decisions. The issue is idolatry, putting something ahead of God. When we idolize our human ability to “control things,” the clutter of choices and voices drown out God’s voice. We need to desire God’s opinion rather than ours or the public’s. Getting away, turning off the t.v. or radio, or going for a walk and just listening for God to speak is the best prescription for a noisy world.

Unfamiliarity with God’s Ways

As a whole, we’ve become so unfamiliar with God’s ways that when God makes a move, we hardly recognize Him. As with any relationship, growing close to God and knowing His character requires time. When we squeeze God into one or two hours each week—when we speed-date God—we’re short-changing our most important relationship. This lack of intimacy hinders our growth in prayer and eventually leads to us turning deaf ears to God’s voice simply because we don’t recognize Him. Developing a prayer life takes time. Don’t wait until you’re desperate for an answer to get to know God. If you spend time every day in prayer, when you’re desperate, you’ll remember to enjoy the journey, stay tenderhearted, speak and listen in God’s native tongue, take brotherly (and sisterly) counsel, care less about control and more about His role, and take the time to court the Lover of your soul.

When we approach the gift of prayer in this way, we’ll overcome the obstacles that hold us back. And when we offer prayers, we’ll hear these words in our soul, “Message sent–message received.”

Which one of these six obstacles is the one you struggle with the most? Share your thoughts and struggles in the comments below, and make sure to join our closed Facebook community to go deeper! I also encourage you to re-read that section discussing an area you most need to grow in and determine to make a step this week toward overcoming this hinderance.

Want to learn how to better discern Scripture? Then grab a free copy of our Bible study! We’ve incorporated Bible study application tools, such as reading in context, understanding historical context, using commentaries and more, into our weekly lessons. You can grab a free copy HERE. 

And watch out for our 90-day devotional, releasing soon! In the meantime, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for daily encouragement.

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Reclaiming Redemption

AndreaQuoteTrustJesus

Picture a woman in chains behind bars. Her orange jumpsuit is a beacon screaming, “Guilty!” She’s lost all hope of freedom from this ugly place until the warden swings open the cell door. “A stranger paid your debt. You can go.” As she hurries out in disbelief, crossing the threshold into the sunlight, she looks down. Where there was once prison garb, she now sees a white sundress and pearls. She’s been transformed by mercy.

And she’s an image of us when we grasp the power of redemption.  

It may have been real bars that kept you living in shame, or the memory of bad decisions. Perhaps it’s a harsh word you’d take back, an affair you can’t wish away, or a sinful pattern you can’t kick. According to Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.” Gulp. We’re right to feel the weight of our sin. The penalty is severe. But praise God that’s not where the verse ends. Listen to this: death doesn’t hold us because “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 ESV).    

Over and over Scripture paints this picture of our freedom. Colossians 1:13-14 ESV reaffirms this truth saying, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Colossians-1_14-

Sometimes it’s hard to understand or accept this reality because redemption isn’t an everyday word in our vocabulary. What does it mean to be redeemed? Is our spiritual jail cell really unlocked?

Those were questions I struggled with until I did some digging into Scripture. “Apolutrosis”- it sounds like an odd sickness, but it’s the original Greek word for redemption in today’s verse. It means to be released because a ransom was paid.

What does that reveal about our identity?

It tells our story. We were prisoners to sin, held captive, and unable to gain our freedom. But in our darkest moment, God saw us and bought us back for a high price—Jesus’s perfect life sacrificed on the cross to atone for ours.

How does it make you feel to know you’ve been ransomed? That a payment was made on your behalf so that nothing hinders your relationship with God? That you now can approach Him with your head up in honor instead of down with shame? Maybe it’ll take a while to sink in.

It makes me super relieved. I’m beyond thankful Jesus paid my debt, that I don’t have to try to prove I’m worthy of God’s love because He makes me worthy. I lived in shame and struggle for so many unnecessary years when I could’ve traded my guilt for His freely offered peace. And I’m thankful I don’t have to live fearfully anymore.

Now I live in grace and I claim my redemption daily. Receiving this truth to my core, that I can’t undo the fact that I’ve been bought back, fuels me to live differently. I cling as closely as possible to my big brother, Jesus, because He’s proven His love and protection is something I can count on.

Perhaps you still feel more chained than freed. But once you trust in Jesus, He wants to bust you out of every jail cell you’ve crawled into. Trust that His sacrifice was enough for your past, present, and future mistakes. God not only paid your debt in full, but also credited you with Jesus’ brilliant righteousness. You can live joyfully knowing He traded your orange jumpsuit for His white robe.

AndreaQuoteLiveJoyfullyFB