Faithful Obedience by Kate Nieuwsma

We count it a blessing to see, in the church where God has planted our family, how many saints walk faithfully and joyfully through very hard things. Their faithfulness, endurance joy, and faith encourage us to press on looking up to Jesus, knowing that He is near us.

Kate has been such a faithful mom through a long trial, and her testimony of God’s faithfulness sustaining her family is a gift to the church. I trust that you will be encouraged to read this.

The Great Gift (of Small Joys)
By Kate Nieuwsma

“When my anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought me joy.” Psalm 94:19

“But how can they survive?” I asked myself. A few years ago, three faithful women in my community lost their babies within a few weeks of one another, all in truly tragic circumstances. What I saw unfolding for them was my deepest nightmare. The death of one of my children is something that – if I let it – will keep me up at night in a cold sweat. (Pretty sure it will do that to most parents!) Part of why it scared me so much is that I had seen this trial unfold before, and I thought I knew what came afterwards: despair, chaos, spiritual death. I cringed at the loss of faith I thought was fated to follow on the heels of such grief.

But instead? I was given one of the greatest spiritual gifts I have ever received. Every single one of those women showed bone-deep grief. But they also showed us joy. In the months that followed their loss, they told us the sharp-edged sorrow, but they wrapped it with the joy of God’s provision. They showed us laughter with their families. They showed us dignity in loss. They spared us the gritty, public play-by-play of grief lauded in our culture as being the only “authentic” reaction, knowing that we didn’t have the grace to bear that, and they pointed us to Christ instead. When they could have – without guilt – buried us in the heaviness of legitimate grief, they chose instead to hand us joy. Not pretendy joy. Not false laughter that doesn’t admit the difficulty. But that deep, sometimes weeping joy that says “This is a dark night, but Christ is the light.” We saw them cling to Christ, and then we saw them stand strong in joy.

I held onto this gift of joy in trials, but I had no idea how much I would need it. About 8 months ago, my then-2-year-old daughter was suddenly diagnosed with an acute kidney condition. We thought at first it was temporary, but it has become clear over the last few months that this is likely to be a constant throughout her childhood, and perhaps her entire life. Our last few months have been full of pain and pain management, hospital stays, numerous infections, pancreatitis, pneumonia, thousands of blood tests, IV sticks, PICC lines and bandaids and insomnia and hard hospital beds and difficult visions of the future. There was a very real danger of losing her several times in this journey so far, and the possibility for permanent disability or a shortened life is always present.

I remember standing by her hospital bed a few months into her journey after a difficult night and an even more difficult morning blood draw. Things were hard, and the temptation to be weary and weepy and ask for others to join with me in that tired, frustrated pain was very real.  But then I looked up and saw her sitting there with a case of simply legendary bedhead, double-fisting some juice and water, and giving me a classic look of hilarious, near-drunken morning bleariness. There was nothing to do but laugh out loud and take a picture (and show it to her – she laughed too!). That morning, I remembered the glory of those faithful women handing out a glimpse of the joy that comes in sorrow, and I decided to pass that along in a tiny way. I posted that picture of my little one with the very real and cleansing laughter that came with it rather than the bid for sympathy I desperately wanted to post. It was a simple act of finding joy in the midst of difficulty, a preschool level attempt at mimicking the great acts of faith that I had seen, but I can’t tell you how many people have thanked me for that funny little picture and others like it. There is something foundationally comforting about small joys in the midst of a trial. They tell those around us that we will be ok, and it also tells them that they will be too. It tells them that when their turn for trouble comes along (and we all know that it will), that they will make it through. That Christ will be with us all even when things are hard. That in the darkest cave of trials there is still the light of God, the relief of holy laughter. That when pain is real, heaven is more so.

Joy reminds us that Christ will make it right.

Joy is both submission and rebellion, a sword and trowel. It faithfully plants seeds in the midst of a snowstorm, and it guards the soul like a watchdog. It shakes the fist at the type of “rawness” that insists that glory is not possible in the midst of difficulty. That your truest feelings are only the ones that happen when self-control is lost.

And the best part about joy? When you go in search of it in order to pass it on, seeking the beautiful gems of laughter and provision and comfort in the dark cave you’ve been thrown into, you always find far more than you’ve been looking for. Joy is like the stable in C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Last Battle’: far larger on the inside than it is on the outside. When you crack open that door in order to battle the darkness, you find that you’ve actually stumbled on a place of feasting. You find that Christ has “set a table in the presence of your enemies” (especially those enemies of the soul – bitterness, ingratitude, fear, cowardice). Even small joy opens the door to great victory.

This race of faith that God has called my daughter and the rest of our family to may be a long one. We honestly don’t know how far this road will take us or what it will contain. But we have seen the faithful runners ahead of us in this race of faith, and we have seen their faithful obedience of joy. Because of them, we know that we will be ok. We know that Christ is here, because they have shown us His joy. Make us like them, Lord!

Light this darkness with the flame of Your joy.

Faithful Obedience by Lauren McMurray

Lauren and I have gotten to know each other through our involvement in the Bible Reading Challenge. And every time she writes or comments, I pay attention because I know she will have something good for us to hear.

It is a blessing to have women in your life whose words build up those who hear them!

Thank you, Lauren for your contribution to this series on Faithful a Obedience.

I became a Christian when I was 18, my freshman year of college. I didn’t meet my husband until I was 26. And as a part of a large church community, I had lots of opportunities to fellowship through giving my time. Serving my roommates, family, fellow church members, and my coworkers was a joy. When I got married it was hard for me to transition away from looking outward to looking inward as a helper for my husband. Learning how to serve him as a wife and as a friend, and how to be a part of his family with their different-from-mine expectations. My outside-the-home time was crunched keeping a large house without roommates help. I was so busy at home that I felt like I was giving nothing. The feeling compounded when I became a mother two and half years later—it became hard to even make meals for people. I really wanted to serve His people, and it felt somehow selfish to just serve my little family.

Facing my duty, releasing my desire.

Eventually I was blessed to realize—through faithful friends’ podcast—that God gives us desires in order that we might have something to give back to him.

Desires to sacrifice??

I looked at my past, present, future and saw that the very duties that had seemed selfish were the reason I had something more to sacrifice. I was able to faithfully give by “not doing”. I had learned “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” but I finally saw when I chose my duties by not doing, that was still pleasing to the Lord.

Practically I can pray for needs to be filled. I can buy Papa Murphy’s when I don’t have time deliver a home-made meal. I can love my little people by leaning in to my husband and children’s hobbies. Praying for friends, and church family is something I can do while overseeing my little realm. Praying, calling, emailing, or writing a card are all kind ways to serve, and offer up your desire to do more by doing what you can before the Great Comforter, the Great Physician.

Interests, desires, wants are all opportunities to have an open hand before the Lord and cheerfully assume our duties and hold desires with an open hand before the Lord.

Living in Two Worlds -At the Same Time-

Screen Shot 2019-09-27 at 3.39.13 PMIf you have read me for a while, you already know that I love the Puritans and that I have been greatly influenced by their writings. I am a firmly believer that all Christians should always have a book written by a Puritan on their currently-reading pile of books.

This past summer I decided to do something different on the way I would read their books. Instead of reading the Puritans in a random order -as I have done it for years, I would apply myself to study them, first in general, and then dig deeper in the life and writings of a few of them.

Yesterday I finished L. Ryken’s wonderful book, Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were.  Every bit of this book was very interesting and of course I found many great gems that were worth sharing here, but alas! life is busy and blogging some (many!) times has to wait! However, I do want to share a few quotes that I loved because of how relevant they are to what I have always wanted this blog to capture: “I’m fully here, where God would want me to be, but fully aware that I’m Daily On My Way to Heaven.”

“Puritanism was inspired by the insight that all life is God’s. The Puritans lived simultaneously in two words -the invisible spiritual world and the physical world of earthly existence. For the Puritans, both worlds were equally real, and there was no cleavage of life into sacred and secular. All of life was sacred.

Thomas Goodwin wrote that when he was converted, “the glory of the great God was set upon my heart, as the square and rule of each and every particular practice.”

“Godliness in every phase of a person’s life was the Puritan goal. One Puritan spoke of Christianity as a “universal habit of grace” in which “the whole creature is resigned… to the obedience of the glory of its maker.” “If God be over us,  wrote Peter Bulkeley, “we must yield him universal obedience in all things. He must not be over us in one thing, and under us in another, but he must be over us in everything.”

“A logical extension of the principal that all of life is God’s was the Puritan emphasis on seeing God in the ordinary events of life. It is one of the Puritan’s most attractive traits. For the Puritans, everything in life became a pointer to God and a carrier of grace. They viewed life through the wide-angle lens of God’s sovereignty over all of life.

The sanctity of the common was a constant Puritan theme. John Bunyan asked in the preface to Grace Abounding, “Have you forgot… the milkhouse, the stable, the barn, and the like where God did visit your soul?”

“In sum there was no place where the Puritans could not potentially find God. They were always open to what Richard Baxter called a “drop of glory” that God might allow to fall upon their souls.”

“The Puritans were people of confidence, even in defeat, because they knew that they were part of something much bigger than themselves.

 

So yes, I’m doing life with the people I love, the joys of the ordinary and the hardship of God’s tailor-made trials for me. I’m blogging at times, reading much, trying to write more, practicing contentment, packing for a big trip,  and in the midst of it all, I find myself catching drops of glory everywhere I turn… and let me tell you, there are already too many buckets of glory and mercy to count! My cup overflows! God is indeed good!

And so I sign again, as I have done for years now,

Under His sun and by His grace,

Becky Pliego

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PC Credit: Samara Doole via Unsplash

Faithful Obedience by Kirsten Miller

How much I have learned from each one of the ladies  who have contributed to the series  Faithful Obedience. It truly has been a blessing to read how they have  persevered in faithful obedience in all sorts of different circumstances because they have trusted in God who is faithful.  Today I have the privilege to introduce you to Kirsten Miller.

If you ask any of the ladies in our church about Kirsten, you will always hear beautiful comments that speak loud of a woman who has been faithful in loving and serving others. Kirsten’s kindness is contagious because it is genuine, it is clear that it flows from her relationship with Christ.

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The Hard and Joyous Work of Life
by Kirsten Miller

What on earth am I doing here? At age 56, I have learned to ask myself some form of this question every day. Because, what a world we live in! It’s a glorious world, crammed full of opportunities for blessing and cursing, obedience and disobedience, self-serving and self-sacrifice. Every day I have to make choices. So what am I actually doing here?

When I was a teenager and young adult, I thought my life was for glorifying and serving myself. I was pretty miserable and disappointed by that lie. When I repented and returned to the Lord at age 29, I had to revise everything I thought, and change all my goals and priorities.

Now I know I’m here to glorify God and enjoy him forever. God had to teach me what that means and how to do it. He changed me by giving me his Spirit and his Word. And because I’m finite, and easily side-tracked by distractions, I have to keep a close eye on the prize that I’m going for. I said it’s a glorious world, and it is! But it’s Vanity Fair season, and we live every day of our lives surrounded by barkers with bull horns who want to draw us off the path and into buying their wares. If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, they would have swallowed us up alive.

I have a husband, eight children (three still at home), two sons-in-law, two daughters-in-law, and twelve grandchildren, all of whom live in our town. My elderly parents also live with us. When God gave my husband and me a large family, he also gave us a lifetime of work to do. These precious people need us to serve and bless them! We’re so thankful to do it. But we’re not actually up to the task. When I was student teaching in a second grade classroom during college, a teacher startled me by commenting that a certain student was “working beyond her potential.” I thought that was a nonsensical statement, and it stuck with me all these years. But that describes my husband and me well: every day we must work beyond our potential. We always come up short on our own: our own energy, our own wisdom, our own faithfulness. But we’ve learned not to despair, because we’ve seen God bless our work and makes it fruitful in spite of our weakness and shortcomings. Praise the Lord! There is no end to the flow of living water that comes to us and through us, from him. He keeps us watered and thriving.

The days are busy. I have a lot to keep track of. I fight to keep my priorities in view, so that I don’t drift off task and waste my time. I have to consciously make room for my core duties, or they get pushed out and neglected. Laziness is a slough, always just off the path. My grandma duties are a growing priority for me these days. I can support and encourage our adult children as they work hard raising their own young families. But that won’t happen if I start telling myself I’ve worked hard, so now it’s the time of life to rest and take care of myself.

My parents need my time and my help. My father has dementia and my mother has heart problems. A couple of years ago, it became difficult and stressful for them to continue to live alone and far away from us. How good it was to be able to make room for them in our home! It was not a hard decision for us to make, because we knew the Lord would bless us and supply all that we needed to make it work, just as he always has with the work he gives us. Our grandchildren now love spending time with their great-grandma and great-grandpa. A few months after my parents moved in, we heard our five-year-old grandson say to my mother, “Great-Grandma, I remember when I didn’t know you!”

So, ladies! Let’s stick our fingers in our ears as we pass through Vanity Fair! They claim to be selling garments made of the finest self-love and self-glory that will keep us warm and make us beautiful and happy. Let’s instead be grateful for the humble servants’ garments our Father has given us to wear in this world and wait patiently for him to clothe us gloriously in heaven. We’re being transformed into his image, from glory to glory. Press on, dear sisters! Press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

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You can find the index to this series here.

Faithful Obedience by Maddie Williams

Maddie is a new friend to me. In the last months I came to know her better and all I have for her is respect and a deep love. She is a kind and joyous woman with a compassionate heart that never gets tired of reaching out to serve and love others, -her acts of kindness have touched our lives, and even my grandson gets to be snuggled in a precious baby blanket she knitted for him!

I am so grateful to have her share today with us about her difficult journey with infertility and our faithful God who always walks with us.

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God’s Faithfulness in the Wilderness of Infertility
by Maddie Williams

“And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.”
Deuteronomy 8: 2-3

This verse came to mind when Becky asked me to write something about faithful obedience and how it has affected me. God required faithful obedience from the Israelites as they wandered in the desert, and whether they were faithfully obedient to God had massive consequences. Those who obeyed (Joshua and Caleb) were able to enter the promised land, but those who disobeyed were left in the wilderness, never to enter the land flowing with milk and honey.

Infertility has been the greatest test of my obedience thus far in life, and years in, I still have so much to learn about how I can faithfully obey God in this “wilderness.” God has not given us babies yet because He loves us too much to give them to us right now, and one of the testaments of that love is what He has taught me in this time of waiting. God has taught me that faithful obedience reaps great blessings.

You see, I live in a town of many babies. I mean, many, many babies. Many friends’ babies, many nieces and nephews, many church babies. Not long into dealing with infertility the temptation became great to see each of those babies as reminders of what I didn’t have. Little fingers whispered that God had blessed someone else, but not me. Little giggles hinted that God loved someone else, but not me. Little toes suggested that lucky is she, but woe is me. Several times I gave in to those whispers of sin, using the fact that others had what I did not have as an excuse to wallow in my own sadness and self-pity. The more I wallowed, the harder infertility got, the darker my wilderness grew. The more I envied others with their sweet little babies, the sadder my life became.

God placed me in a wilderness, but He also placed the nourishment I needed to make it to the promised land right in front of me. When the Israelites were in the wilderness God fed them with manna. It was exactly what they needed to sustain and nourish them. When God gives us trials of our own, He also provides us with manna-like mercies to sustain and nourish us through our wildernesses. Ironically, I found that my “manna” was spending time with my nieces, nephews, and friends’ babies. But just like the Israelites, I was tempted to grumble about my manna and resent it. My manna came with a catch. In order to be nourished by it, I had to faithfully obey God and thank Him for it before I could reap the harvest. It was only when I obediently thanked God for blessing others and not me with the gift of children that I was able to feast off that “manna.” It was only when I rid myself of envy and bitterness that I was able to reap the blessing that God had placed right in front of my blind eyes. Not only did the pain of infertility practically vanish, but I also found what is now the greatest joy in my life.

I had to bless God for the blessings of others. And the coolest thing? God taught me to bless Him for the blessings of others, especially the blessings that I myself was still waiting on. Once I submitted in obedience to Him, my wilderness faded away. Now it is one of my greatest joys when my friends have babies. Ironically, I feel like I have the easiest time glorifying God for those gifts. I feel like I should be the one giving the MOST glory to God when I see friends receive what I don’t have. For I know, in a unique way that only some know, just how precious and glorious and undeserved those blessings are. I know firsthand that those blessings aren’t an accident. They’re not a lucky coincidence. They’re not good timing. They’re not fertility treatments. Instead, they are God’s power. They are God’s glory. They are God’s magic. And I have a backstage pass to the magic show. I should be the one giving Him the most praise for those gifts. Through infertility, God has made it easy for me to see just how glorious those many, many babies are.

When I started to respond to these gifts with obedience, God dramatically changed my heart. Now when I see the many babies surrounding me, I no longer see what God has withheld from me. Instead I see what God can do, for it’s no harder for God to give them babies than to give me babies. Now when I have my nieces and nephews over for a date, I no longer see what I’m missing. Instead I see little shoes scattered across my entryway, a sight that brings me so much joy. Now when I get to babysit for my friends, I no longer feel empty afterwards. Instead, my heart is filled to the brim with all the snuggles I just stole. Little did I know that when I started faithfully obeying God, He would bless that obedience hundredfold. When I obediently died to sin, God took that death and resurrected it. He turned the very thing that once caused hopelessness into what is now my greatest source of hope and joy. He turned what was once a wilderness into a land flowing with milk and honey. Praise Him for the babies, the little hands and big giggles, the baby showers, and the snuggles that He has fed me with. They are my greatest joys every day. They are my manna that fills up my cup to overflowing. They are living and breathing reminders to taste and see that the Lord is so very good. As I have learned to faithfully obey God and bless Him for the blessings of others, my wilderness has faded and my emptiness has been filled with joy. God greatly blessed my little mustard seed of obedience.

When we faithfully obey God, we see God’s greatest blessings. If we faithfully follow God even when we are weak, God will always bless our obedience. Our death to sin will be resurrected and raised to new life. And that shouldn’t surprise us because that’s the way God’s world works. Out of defeat, God conquered the powers of death and hell. Out of pain, God healed the greatest of all wounds. Out of despair, God brought the greatest joy. And out of death, God gives us eternal life.

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Read The Word, Pray the Word

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The men and women of God through history are people who pray. And I imagine we all want to know what is it that made their prayer life rich and effective. I would say that one thing they all have in common is that they pray according to the Word of God.

We want to have a rich prayer life too, and having heard of this idea of “praying the Scriptures back to God,” we take a notebook and start jotting down promises, Bible verses that we believe will enrich our prayer life and strengthen our faith. And what a blessing that is. We hold dearly to these words of life. We let them be the last word we hear in our minds to silence our anxious thoughts and fears.

“The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Ex.14:4

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” Is. 40:29

“Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” Prov.30:5

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Is. 41:10

“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Rom. 8:32

These are only a few, there are so many more promises, more than we can count and all are yes and amen in Christ for those who are His. Each one of these promises is powerful and comforting. Each one is like a lifeline thrown from Heaven to us, as so we grasp them by faith.

But there are times when the trials of life are too deep and too dark, they rage against us fiercely, and the pain is hard to bear. We grab our notebook with Promises, and barely find our breath to pray through them… our voice has drowned under our tears.

It is in those times when knowing the God who gives these Promises will keep us alive. It is then when not only one or two Promises will revive us and give us hope, but when we need the whole counsel of God to be our stronghold.

There are times when our flesh will fail us, and our knees will be weak, and in these times every Word we have read in the Bible, every story in it will prove to be the backbone of our life. We may fall one, two, three, seven times, but we will not be crushed because the Word of God has the power to hold us against the enemy.

Oh, how important is is to be immersed in all the Word of God! How important it is to fill our mind and heart with all the stories of the Bible. Stories in which God reveals to us not only His character, but the way He loves to write stories. The Promises we love and count as precious, are not magic words. These promises belong to some part of God’s  story, and when we know the story in which they were spoken, we gain much more assurance.

I have been there, praying with the Bible open, praying not one or two verses, but story after story back to God.  With my Bible open, I have prayed to the God of the Bible because I know Him, I have read His Word, I have read how He is faithful when we are not. I have read how He is just and holy and at the same time merciful and compassionate. I have read story after story how He loves to redeem and restore His own children. I have read how He disciplines those He loves and how He walks with them through the consequences of their sin. I have read in the Bible how He saves those who don’t deserve to be saved. I know how much He loves to show Grace. I have read over and over, from Genesis to Revelation, stories that reveal to us who God is. I can know Him, because He wants me to know Him. I have my Bible in my hands as a proof for that. I know the Triune God of the Bible in whom millions and millions have trusted before and in whom I will trust too.

I will not stop reading. My life depends on the very Words spoken by God, written for me.

I will keep coming, I will keep reading. I want to know my God more, to trust Him more, to love Him more.

I still carry my notebook with Bible promises with me, but in my heart I carry the whole story that gives life to each one of those promises.

Under His sun and by His grace,

Becky

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