Thursday, April 30, 2009

To Every Thing Turn, Turn ... Enduring Through Seasons

I was on Staff Devotions yesterday ...

Last week I reached a milestone. I turned 40. Last year I started a tradition where I break bread with God on my birthday. I sit with him and reflect on the past year and his gifts to me and things I am thankful for in my life. This past Friday morning I found myself reflecting on why 40 is a landmark birthday. 40 is seen as the halfway point in life. Many people seem to struggle with this particular birthday. As I thought about turning 40, I thought about my Dad who died at 49. I thought, “I am sure my father never dreamed that at 40, he would have just 9 short years left”. And that made me think about the fact that NONE of us know how many days we will have. God does. And I thought, Lord, really this is a reminder to me to count my days and make my days count. Can I go to bed tonight saying that I LIVED my day – rather than just getting caught up in the frenzy of it? Was I present in it? Did I love someone today? Did I give them hope? Did I encourage them? Did I reflect Jesus with skin on to someone in my circle? Have I loved and laughed and lived today?

On my birthday, as I sat with God reflecting about things that I was thankful for this past year, health was at the top of my list. Many of you know my story – I have shared it before. The past few years have been really challenging for me. I had surgery in December and since then I have been recovering. As I reflected on the things in my life I am grateful for, I thanked God for answered prayers with my surgery. It was easy to thank him for all those things that went well, a great surgeon, excellent anaesthetist – needle that went into my veins first time … the courage to self inject myself each day for two weeks when I am terrified of needles. There were many things I could thank him for but it took me a few minutes of sitting still, before I could say, “thankyou for the hysterectomy”. I could look at that surgery as huge loss because in all reality it is. But I choose to say, thankyou for all I have gained Lord. Thank you that I live in an age where technology is so advanced and I could have this surgery rather than spending the rest of my life living like I have the past couple of years. Thank you for health. Thank you for life. Thank you that I have energy. Thankyou for the way you work in paradoxes – that in the death of one thing, there is new life in another. And really, that paradox is the crux of seasons. We all go through seasons of plenty and and we all go through seasons where it is hard, brown and barren. Enduring through seasons is what I would like to talk about this morning.

Recently, at bible study, the question was raised as to why some people endure through hard seasons and others don’t. I am sure you can all think of people who have gone through the mill. They have been sifted. They have been tested. They have been proven in the fire and they have come out shining. For all those people we know, each of us probably know others who didn’t make it. We often wonder why that is. Looking back over my life, and the lives of those around me, it seems that the things you focus on and the choices you make in your seasons are critical to your very survival.

Globally, we are seeing people in a difficult season financially. The current economic climate has put a lot of people under severe stress. I am watching this with my own family right now. Several have lost their jobs and are facing uncertainty financially. With all this going on, I was recently chatting with my sister-in-law and she made the comment to me, “you don’t know how hard it is to not have money …” I smiled to myself but said nothing as she spoke. You see, as I was listening, I was musing over the different financial seasons in my life. I clearly remember several years of living, not knowing how I would make my payments each week. I remember vividly the week that the choice came down to me paying my overdue bills or eating. That week, I fasted and paid my bills. I remember being in despair the following week when I got back to the same point. An unexpected bill came in and I was crying to God saying that I couldn’t fast another week (not a great idea when you are seriously anaemic as I was at the time). I had the sense of him saying, “Whose idea was that Sarah, yours or mine?” You see, in the midst of my challenge, I used my brain to problem solve it myself and left God completely out of the picture … so he sat and waited … and watched me come around the mountain to the same place. This time though, there were not the same options. And this time I included him and things were completely different. Currently, I am blessed financially. But I have had a winter season in other areas of my life. The past few years have presented challenges that made the road a hard one to walk.

Seasons are a fact of life. Sometimes they are fruitful and sometimes, they are barren and hard and cold. The bottom line is that the change in seasons will come. Are you prepared? What will you do? How will you get through? In times of plenty, I remember the source. In times of hardship, I know that he is on the throne and he is my redeemer. While recovering from surgery, I read part of a bible study and I was a little perturbed. The implication was that God sends trials on us to test us. I personally struggle with that concept. That is not the God I know. The bottom line is, we live in a sick, diseased word that is fallen and scarred by sin. Stuff happens. My phrase of the year seems to be, “se la vie” – “it is what it is”. We deal with it. How? Well here is a starting point … my God is the Alpha and Omega, who knows the beginning from the end. He is the author and perfector of my faith. He is my redeemer. He has promised that he will not leave me and that he will see the work in my life through to the day of completion – when he takes me home. So when I go through these times, they are not a surprise to God. He has a plan in place and he will redeem my circumstances. When I can’t see my way and it’s falling down all around me, my God is on the throne and he has a plan!

Choose your focus. What are you going to look at in this time? As I look over my life and the lives of those who endured, I see people who are not super spiritual, who are not super human. They are real! Over various seasons in my life, I have cried, I have shouted at God … I have wallowed. But in spite of that, I have chosen to fix my eyes on the one sitting before me. What are you going to look at?

The apostle Paul knew this truth well. He experienced tremendous hardship and having come through it he says in Hebrews 12:1
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that will not grow weary and lose heart."

It is interesting to note that this passage follows on immediately from the heroes of faith chapter. Take a look at those heroes! They were not superhuman, running and never falling. Nope! They crashed and fell … they took detours, they made wrong decisions. What they all have in common is that they persevered. They endured. They focused on their God. They got up and they kept going.

When our focus is correct, it helps us to be content. We can be content if we trust God. And perhaps, here is the second secret to endurance. If we know: God is the author and perfector of our faith; if we know that he has a plan to redeem us; if we know that he does not sit impassively watching our struggles, but has walked the way and walks with us on the way, then we can be content. Paul knew that the secret to contentment is abiding in the presence of God, knowing we are held in his hands and that we are not forsaken.

He said to the Phillipians in Phil 4:11-13:
"I have learnt to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things though him who gives me strength."

Paul knew his source. And he clung to it through many hardships.

One of the things I have learnt over the past few years (and I am still learning it!) is what it means to trust God, stop fighting, lie down and submit. I’ll give you one last story to illustrate this point. When I was diagnosed with my tumour, things were spinning out of my control and I was really struggling. I had to go for an MRI and I did not know what to expect. I did my best to prepare but nothing I read, prepared me for the fact that when they did it, they would want to put a needle in my arm, insert a canula and inject dye. I am really needle phobic and need to psych myself up for things like that. At the MRI machine, none of them spoke English so it was even more of a drama. It might sound strange to you, but one of the hardest things for me was to have to lie down on that MRI machine and surrender control of my body to other people – especially people I could not communicate with. I was telling a friend about that and she spoke the following to me, “the Lord is my shepherd … he MAKES me lie down …” This made me think of my friend Frances. When we were growing up, she had a pet lamb named Thunder. She would pick him up and he would bleat and baa, and kick and struggle. She would flip him on his back and he would go completely limp and lie peacefully in her arms gazing adoringly at her face. Sometimes we are like Thunder. We don’t want to lie down, we kick and we fight. We struggle to gain control. Sometimes, all God is asking of us, is to lie down and surrender to the process … whatever that process is. Lie back in his arms and trust him completely.

A lot of thoughts this morning, so summing them up … how do we get through the hard seasons?
1. Know the season you are in. We will always have seasons in our life. Take hope in the fact that after every winter, there is a Spring! And for those pessimists of you out there, don't even go to the thought of, "well yes, but after every summer there is a winter!". This brings us to the second point ...

2. Watch your focus. Focus on Jesus – the alpha and omega, the author and finisher of your faith, the one who knows beginning from end and is our redeemer.

3. Abide in his presence and practice the art of contentment. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

4. Lie down and submit – think of Se La Vie. It is what it is. Seasons are inevitable. God knew this day was coming. It was not a surprise. I need to surrender to him and let him take the rudder to steer me through.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a song. It is still a little rough. I wanted to share it with you this morning. It’s a song that has come out of the past few years for me. Oprah asks the question, “What do you know for sure?” This song answers that for me. I will post that in another blog ... and you can click here to see it! (sorry you can't hear the tune ... but it is pretty upbeat ...)

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