Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Promises of Problems

Today's Truth
"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good." Genesis 50:20

Friend To Friend
If you are like me, you prefer days when the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and not a cloud in sight. Problems tend to irritate me because they make me realize just how frail I am as a human. But I have come to realize that every problem points to a promise.

Promise of direction
God uses problems to show us the way. We would walk through the wrong door if He didn't close it. Years ago, I dated a young man I thought I would marry. We had it all worked out. He was a preacher and I played the piano and sang. What could be more perfect? I began to pray, "Lord, if he is not the one, just close the door!" The very next conversation I had with this young man ended our relationship and resulted in my taking a church staff position that led me to Dan Southerland. I look back and thank God for that closed door.

"Sometimes it takes a painful situation to make us change our ways." Proverbs 20:30

Promise of correction
God uses problems to correct us. I have come to realize that some lessons can only be learned in the darkness, through pain and failure. When our daughter was a toddler, she was fascinated with electrical outlets. Nothing we said or did seemed to deter her … until the day she stuck a safety pin in the outlet. "Ouch!" she cried, holding up her little red finger for me to kiss. She never played with an outlet again.

"It was the best thing that could have happened to me, for it taught me to pay attention to your laws." Psalm 119:71-72

Promise of protection
A problem can be a blessing in disguise if it keeps you from being hurt by something more serious. It was so hard for me to take our children to the doctor to get immunization shots. I would take a healthy child into the doctor's office and come out with a little one who was fussy, sore and running a low grade temperature. Our pediatrician finally said, "Mary, just think of it like this. You are allowing your babies to experience a little hurt in order to prevent them from experiencing a bigger hurt. A tetanus shot is nothing compared to tetanus itself.

"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good." Genesis 50:20

Promise of perfection
Problems, when responded to correctly, are character builders. I recently spoke for a women's conference that used the theme of "Problems into Pearls." Strands of pearls were everywhere - the center of each table, on the podium from which I spoke, draped across tables - and many of the ladies wore pearls that day. When the worship leader welcomed me, she said, "We have to get you some pearls!" Digging in her purse, she produced the most beautiful pearl necklace and placed it around my neck. As the day went on, I spoke several times, counseled and prayed with numerous women and tried to meet as many women as possible. When everyone had left, the woman came to retrieve her pearl necklace. I was embarrassed. I had worked up quite a sweat with all of that hugging, laughing, talking. She brushed my apology aside and said, "Sweat is good for pearls. It helps them keep their luster."

"We can rejoice when we run into problems ... they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady." Romans 5:3-4

God is at work in and around you. You may not see His hand, hear His voice or even understand His process, but you can rest assured that you can trust His heart. Remember, every problem points to a promise.

Let's Pray
Father, thank You for each problem that points me to You. Help me to see trials as handles for Your promises and tools for growth in my life. I choose to accept the lessons You want to teach me in the dark times and celebrate their truth in the light. Give me the strength and power to trust You completely.
In Jesus' name, Amen.

Now It's Your Turn
- What problem are you facing right now? Put it into words and record it in your journal.
- Pray, surrendering that problem to God and ask Him for the promise it holds.
- What good can come out of the problem you are facing?
- What scripture promise do you claim because of this problem?
- Write that promise on a 3 x 5 card and tuck it in your purse. When the going gets tough, pull out that card and read the verse aloud as a statement of your faith in your Problem-Solving God!

More From The Girls
If I had to choose between problems and peace, I know what I would naturally choose. Don't you? But God's ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts higher than our thoughts and His purpose more complete than our plans. Trust Him, today, my friend. He is Lord of the mountain, Shepherd of the valley and He loves you! Need help avoiding that pit? Check out Mary's CD, How to Avoid the Pits and sign up for her weekly online bible study, Light for the Journey.


"Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope."
Psalm 119:49 (NIV)

I recall the moments of despair. I couldn't see my way out. Three small children were depending on me and that thought was overwhelming. I would cry in the middle of my mobile home floor, feeling desperately lonely. I wondered if I would have food to feed them or a way to keep them warm.

Child support was $142 a month, but I rarely received it. I worked a full time job, took in laundry, and worked as a waitress during holidays. When all three kids would get sick at the same time, my life felt like a nightmare. The thought of driving off a cliff entered my mind more than once, but I couldn't bear to think what that would do to my kids for the rest of their lives.

I wanted someone (I would have settled for ANYONE at times) to just even pretend to care about me. Would rescue ever come?

Then one day I made the decision to look for the good. My baby went to the potty (hey, that was a big deal). My oldest waved from the school bus. My son poured on a heart-melting smile. Choosing to laugh more than cry and finding the fun in each day was often like seeking buried treasure. But most days the good was there; it just wasn't as noticeable as the bad. Focusing on those moments felt like breath in my lungs.

My theme song was Carole King's "Beautiful" that says, "You've got to get up every morning with a smile on your face." Gray had dominated my days for far too long, the sun needed to shine in my life again.

I remember purposely watching other moms who had happy kids to see what they were doing right. And those who seemed to have peace, even in the middle of their meltdowns particularly intrigued me. What did they have that my ‘pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps' mentality wasn't fulfilling?

Jesus. They simply had found the Prince of Peace who sends the Counselor into your heart when you accept Him. Watching those examples made me hunger for that relationship in my own life.

Now, as I look back, I see the string of choices, the dots that all connected. They all brought me to this very day. This day when I am sitting at my breakfast table, peering at the stars glistening in the sky, writing this note to you, my friend. The note says, "You can do this. We can't possibly see the road ahead or try to understand where it is going, but I guarantee you the Creator of the universe is connecting your dots."

Dear Lord, I need your help to make it through today. I need to notice the good. Don't let me forget You've brought me through every struggle I've ever faced. Remind me to share that good news with others who need to hear it. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Power Verses:
Deuteronomy 31:8, "The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." (NIV)

Genesis 21:16a-17, 19, "And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob. God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, 'What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water." (NIV)

What memories allow me to see God's divine hand in my life?

How do I share that hope with others?

Who may be watching me, hoping to find lasting Hope?

Controlling a Complaining Spirit

"Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD,
and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp." Numbers 11:11 (NIV)

As we were getting ready to leave for vacation, one of my children asked for a new video game to play on the drive. Knowing all of our available funds were ear-marked for the trip, I told my child "no" and explained in a compassionate and clear reason why I would not be spending money on a video game prior to a vacation. I explained how much fun we would have and how much this fun would cost. Which, as I was sure he understood, did not leave money for buying video games.

At what I thought was a perfectly logical explanation, that same child, who should have been agreeing with me and trying to find ways to help make this wonderful vacation happen, actually got annoyed. With me. He said, with a very frustrated voice, that he never got anything he wanted. Accompanied with a heavy dramatic sigh, crossed arms and pout.

The tone of his voice, his negative words, and his dramatic body language, raised my eyebrows (I would have only raised one if I could). My back straightened and one hand rose to my hip. "Really?" I said in a low and deceptively calm voice. "You never get anything you want? On the day before we are leaving for an amazing trip that your father and I have worked hard to give you, you can actually say that you have nothing you want?"

Can I just tell you that an ungrateful spirit really is really hard for me to deal with? Especially when I know what is in store.

Sometimes I wonder if that must be how God feels when I grumble about what I don't get. Like when I went through infertility for three years before getting pregnant … three times … then adopting. In hindsight, God was really giving me three more years of wearing a size ten and a brain that could finish a complete thought. At that time, all I saw was emptiness.

The truth is, my child was just demonstrating a human reaction to being told "no" or "not now" by someone who knows what the future holds. Sometimes God withholds a "yes" knowing we need to be prepared to receive His goodness in His time. Other times, when we've been told "no" due to our own bad choices or those of others, God withholds a "yes" to teach us something. Or it's a permanent "no" to protect us. Whichever way, God is always working things together for the good of those who love Him.

I don't think my son ever fully understood why I said "no" to the video game. But over time, as he grew and matured, he learned to trust me more, and believe that I really loved him in spite of saying "no." Even as adults, we have trouble understanding God's ways. Sometimes we may never understand. When that happens, I choose to do a few things that help me mature as a believer. Maybe they will help you too:

1) I choose to not complain to others about God.
2) I am honest with God about how I feel, but I don't accuse Him of evil or being out to hurt me.
3) I choose to trust Him. When the doubts start to surface, I choose again to trust Him again.
4) I sing His praises. It reminds me of God's true character, which is always good.

Hearing "no" is never easy. However, as children of a loving Heavenly Father, we can learn over time to trust that He really does have something planned that we are going to love more than what we want right now. When we trust God is working behind the scenes for us, we can control a complaining spirit that threatens to steal our joy. And restore our faith in God's goodness.

Dear Lord, I know I'm often like a child when I get told "no." Help me to understand in my head and in my heart, that You truly love me, and that You are planning something good. Forgive me when I doubt you and voice those doubts in a complaining way. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

What does complaining to others reveal about your character at that moment?

What are some things you can do to stop the complaining cycle and start being more positive?

Power Verses:
Psalm 142:2, "I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble." (NIV)

Philippians 2:14-15, "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe." (NIV)

Washing Toilets

..."those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled' (Dan 5:19).

Paul desired a career in the building industry. Early in his career, he was working with a large ministry to help direct several of their construction projects.

As the projects were completed, Paul was asked to stay on for future projects. To keep him busy he was given a number of jobs - one of which was cleaning toilets. He recalls getting down on his knees each day and complaining to the Lord, "Lord, I'm a college graduate!"

Discouraged, Paul told the Lord, "I will not leave here until You promote me. Please give me contentment with my circumstance."

Paul felt totally forgotten by God. A few months later, Paul received a phone call from a man in the Midwest who owned five successful businesses who wanted to interview Paul for a job. This came as a total surprise to Paul. As he drove to the interview, he told the Lord, "I only want your will in my life, nothing else. I am content to remain obscure for the rest of my life if I have You. You must override my lack of experience for me to get this job."

The owner of the company asked Paul a surprising question: "If I asked you to clean a toilet, what would you do?" Paul sat there, stunned. He wanted to burst out laughing. Paul assured him that he would simply pick up a sponge and start cleaning.

Amazingly, Paul was hired even though other candidates were more qualified. After several months of success Paul asked his boss why he hired him. His boss replied, "Paul, I still have a large stack of applications from people who wanted this job. Do you remember the first question I asked you in the interview? I asked each one the same question. You were the only one who said he would clean the toilet. Paul, I am a wealthy man, but I grew up dirt poor. I clean my own toilets at home. I can't have people running my businesses who are too proud to clean a toilet."

Sometimes God places us in situations to see if we will be faithful in those before He is willing to promote us to greater things.

Triumphing Over Giants

Read: 1 Samuel 17:33-50

**1 Samuel 17:45 - David said to the Philistine, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied."

**1 Samuel 17:47 - "All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle in the LORD's and He will give all of you into our hands."

In 1935, the debate team of Wiley College, a small and unranked black school in Texas, unexpectedly defeated the all-white championship team from the University of Southern California. This was a classic case of the unknown triumphing over a national giant.

When ancient Israel was in peril at the hands of the Philistines, there was a boy named David who actually triumphed over a giant (1 Sam. 17). The armies were drawn up on opposite sides of the Valley of Elah. They were probably afraid of one another and decided that the outcome of the battle should be determined by a battle of champions. The Philistines offered Goliath, a giant (about 9’9″), but Israel could not find anyone who was worthy or brave enough to fight. David heard of the dilemma and appealed to Saul to let him fight Goliath (vv.32-37). Saul was reluctant, but he agreed. David, armed with five smooth stones (v.40) and unswerving faith in the Almighty God (v.45), triumphed over the Philistines’ national champion.

We all face giants in our lives—worry, doubt, fear, sin, and guilt. But with limited and unlikely resources and unswerving confidence in our all-powerful God, we too can triumph over them.

Come, Lord, and give me courage—
Thy conquering Spirit give;
Make me an overcomer
In power within me live. —Anon.

God gives us courage to challenge our giants.