Life Is Hard: Hype or Hope

Life is hard. The world says if you don't like something, change it. If your marriage isn’t happy, try again with someone else. If you don’t like your job, find a new one. If your church doesn’t meet your needs, shop for one that does. To be happy is to be successful, and people know you are successful by what you possess or how important you are. You need all the information and communication in the palm of your hand. But it’s all hype. Life is still hard.
Even Christians offer hype as the answer to the hardness of life – just accept Jesus and all your life’s problems will be solved.  God wants to bless you with wealth and health.  Live by the formula in His Word – obey, serve, pray, claim His promises – and you will be victorious, happy, and successful in this world.  It’s all hype.
God says life is hard.  He knew it would be ever since Adam and Eve left the garden.  We fight the frustrations of living and work that seems futile.  Yes, marriage may feel less than beautiful, the job (or the job of searching for a job) may seem meaningless, and troubles may be closing in. As Christians, we don’t need to deny the difficulties or explain them away or hide them. We don’t need the hype.  We can admit them straight-on. But we don’t stop there.
Because God offers hope – hope, not hype.  The sweetness of hope comes when we kneel at the cross, (or in my case lately, when desperately grasping the foot of the cross).  He offers to supernaturally sustain us as we endure life’s adversities. When we are misunderstood, or when we fail, endurance may be wavering, but we have hope that the misunderstanding or failure will not be wasted, that God will use it. Meanwhile, He wants us to trust Him, to trust in His goodness, even when it seems obscured.
When life is hard, He wants us to hope in Him. Through the difficult things, He wants to illustrate facets of His character through our experience so that we can really identify with Him. Even in the darkness, He enables us to capture glimpses of an incident from His perspective and in an enlightening context.  Suddenly we can distinguish something shining and precious in the blackness.  In the midst of suffering, even if we still feel blind, we have the hope that someday we will be able to distinguish the beauty through the darkness, when we are enabled to glance backward through His eyes after we have reached the end. Then it will all be worth it to explode with joy unexplainable.  
Light is brighter next to darkness.  Though it is night, joy comes in the morning. Until then, I will skip the hype and choose hope.

As Silver Refined, by Kay Arthur - Book Review

If you are weary of the deceiver taking your thoughts captive, or if you often allow your thought process to send you into a spiral of defeat, Kay Arthur’s magnificent book As Silver Refined: Answers to Life’s Disappointments, can help you break the cycle.  The core of this book centers on the truth that life’s disappointments are actually God’s appointments to make us more like Christ.

Kay Arthur explains that you must know how to handle disappointment head on, in the battlefield of the mind, before you find yourself slipping and spiraling downward into the deadly D’s – discouragement, dejection, depression, and  despair. It is essential to blast out  disappointment with biblical truth, and she provides insights that will change your perspective and help you practice taking every thought captive before it grows into a stronghold. 

She addresses the issues of failure, regret, stress, physical pain, emotional anguish, etc.  While thoroughly explaining the sovereignty of God and His character, she also provides tools for overcoming strongholds, learning victory over dejection and despair, and practicing the secrets to everyday endurance.  In 15 chapters, she applies Bible verses abundantly and sprinkles brief stories of her own humbling experiences that felt like failures at the time but were actually used by God to transform her character to be more like His. 

A study guide in the last third of the book would be a great resource for either a women’s Bible study or for personal use to examine Scripture and process the truth in relation to past, present, and future. The questions are thought-provoking and present great opportunity for lively discussion.

During the duration of time spent reading this book, I was repeatedly pummeled by disappointing circumstances beyond my control.  I clung to the thesis of this book and absorbed every word, which brought me comfort beyond measure.  This is among one of my most favorite books that I have ever read, perhaps because it was so timely. I want to soak up every single word and saturate myself so fully with trust in God’s sovereignty so that I transform my thinking of disappointments into His appointments.  I will be reading this book again and again.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for this review.

A Woman's Guide to Fasting, by Lisa E. Nelson - Book Review

The spiritual discipline of fasting has always fascinated me, but in actual practice, all it had left me with is crankiness, weakness, and irritability.   Until recently.  Lisa Nelson’s book A Woman’s Guide to Fasting is the best material I have ever read on why and how to fast as a spiritual discipline. She explains that the point of fasting as a spiritual discipline is not necessarily giving up food. The purpose is to give up something good and acceptable because you want more of God.  When you take the legalistic aspect out of fasting and replace it with the heart, the spiritual discipline of fasting becomes a tool that God uses to transform you. 

Lisa Nelson explains that fasting is not a transaction, nor a way to work a deal with God. It’s not acting like a spoiled kid refusing to eat until we get what we want. It’s not a reward system where we try to earn the answers to our prayers.  Rather, fasting is declaring God is more important. It is the pathway to humility before Him. It’s about letting Him work on our hearts as we seek hard after Him.  She provides the following reasons to fast:
·         To help us grow spiritually and overcome sin
·         To empower our intercession and petitioning
·         To prepares us for spiritual warfare
·         As an expression of obedience to God’s call
·         As a response to a crisis in our lives.

In this practical book, Lisa Nelson explains the purposes of a fast and the types of fasts. You may have medical reasons or other reasons to not do a water-only fast, but there are lots of other effective options.   She repeatedly explains that it’s all about the heart, not the letter of the law. 

She also explains both physically and spiritually what to do while fasting, how to prepare for a fast, how to end a fast, and the effects of a fast.  In addition, she also explains the physical and spiritual aspects that happen during a fast -- what to expect, how to cope, and how to listen to God through His Word.  Whether you have health issues to consider, are a busy mom, or have an active schedule, Lisa Nelson offers realistic advice on how to work an effective fast into your life.

After reading this book, I started incorporating fasting into my life as a regular discipline and I am finding that my prayers are more focused and my heart is more submissive to God’s will. God is using it as a tool in my life to strengthen and empower me.

Except for the pretty cover, I see no reason why this book should be a guide for women only.  If you never thought of trying to fast as a spiritual discipline, this book will inspire you and give you ideas on how to make yourself available to God for a more intimate walk with Him.  If you ever tried fasting and felt like it failed or was meaningless, this book will give you all the information and encouragement you need to try it again.

Bethany House provided a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

God's Plan

"God has a plan for your life," I told my daughter nearly every night ever since she was a baby. I wanted her to know that God had a purpose in her existence and to feel her sense of worth. 

One night when she was four years old and I was tucking her in bed, she asked, "Where is my plant?"

"Your plant?" I questioned, furrowing my forehead in confusion.

"Yes, my plant!" she insisted. "You keep telling me God has a plant for my life and I keep wondering when He's going to give it to me."

She is 15 years old now, and whether God has a plant or a plan, she still wants it now.  She wants to see the blueprint of her life all mapped out - college, career, husband, family, etc.  At least she is firmly convinced that God has something in mind for her.

Or is that such a good thing? She is so firmly certain that God has a plan for her life, that her choices that she makes now will not necessarily impact that. In fact, she says that maybe God wants her to make specific mistakes so she can be more usable.

This thinking is totally foreign to me.  When I was a teenager, I never really felt for certain God had a plan for my life, and if He did, I was pretty certain I kept messing it up. I figured He gave up on me. I know better than that now. This is why it seemed so important for me to let my children know that they were significant to God and He had a plan and purpose for their existence.

It's hard trying to teach the balance between God's sovereignty and our responsibility.  Just because God has a plan doesn't mean it will be fulfilled when we deliberately choose our own way instead of His. Maybe it would have been better if I had said that God had a "dream" for her life.

God has a dream for how He wants us to live and how we become a greater reflection of Him. But sometimes we resist. Sometimes we can choose sin. Sometimes we think our own way is easier or we'll miss out on something if we go His way. Sometimes we can turn our back on Him and the dream might never be realized. Then we miss it.

But I also think that when we've missed it and we turn back to Him, he weaves our mistakes into the plan, His dream, and can change them into something beautiful. The biggest key is in our turning back to Him.  Still, the road might be more difficult as a result of our choices.  But for God, nothing is wasted.

Just when Satan thinks he's winning, God graciously takes the defeat and turns it into a magnificent victory.  Just like the cross.  Except in the cross, there were never any "mistakes".  Jesus was obedient to the very end. God knew before He created the world that there would have to be the cross.

So how do we live God's plan for our lives? I think that no matter what is thrown our way, He wants us to lean hard on Him, depend on Him, follow His ways. He wants us to know Him and His ways more by studying the Scripture and listening to the assurances He places on our hearts. He wants us to talk to Him and to listen so that we can see from His perspective. He wants us to believe Him, trust Him, and to obey Him.  He wants us to love others and to show them His greatness. 

If we are doing these things, then we are living His plan, no matter where the road takes us--even if it doesn't fit the neat little map we have pictured in our minds, even if it's through the valleys of the shadow of death.  It's always worth it to obey the Father and trust Him - just like Jesus.  If we do, in the end our joy will be full and complete.

Nearing Home: Life, Faith, & Finishing Well - Book Review

“I had been taught all of my life how to die, but no one had ever taught me how to grow old,” said Billy Graham several years ago in an interview by Newsweek.  That started him thinking about writing on the topic of aging.  In Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well, the 93-year-old evangelist offers his lessons learned, advice, and encouragement for preparing for and dealing with the difficulties of illness, retirement and aging.  While aging is full of challenges, it is also a time that can be full of effectiveness and meaningfulness in living out God’s plan for your life, because God has a plan for you as long as you are living.  The best way to meet the challenges of old age is to prepare before they arrive. When we plant our roots deep in the Word of God, our faith is strengthened and He gives us strength to prepare us for whatever life has in store.
Whether you are 29 or 99, there is much to ponder in these ten short chapters on how you are living out the days of your life and how to be hopeful for the years ahead. But most of all, the words in this book will fill you with a sense of hope, no matter which season of life you are living. If you are fearful of the change of seasons or uncertain of what the upcoming season will bring, Billy Graham’s spiritual and practical advice will fill you with courage and prepare you to face it with victory. I have underlined and highlighted many words of wisdom from this encouraging and useful book. It holds a permanent place in my personal library and I plan to open it frequently in the years to come.
BookSneeze® provided me a complimentary copy of this book.  I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions I have expressed are my own.