Life Storms

My area received a lot of rain last week, so it was fitting that my pastor included this verse in his Sunday message about suffering:

When the clouds are dark and heavy with rain, showers will fall upon the earth. (Ecclesiastes 11:3, VOICE)

He acknowledged our first thought at reading it is, “How obvious! Dark clouds bring rain.” Then he reminded us of the cultural context. This was written by King Solomon, who lived in Jerusalem, where the dry season lasts more than half the year. Yet when it rains, a significant amount can fall in a short time. So seeing the dark, heavy clouds roll in probably brought mixed emotions to Solomon and his people: eager anticipation of the life-giving water with dread of the storm that sometimes delivered it.

It is common knowledge that rain benefits plants, animals, and humans. Even the smell of rain is pleasant to most people. But many think of its delivery — especially from strong storms — as inconvenient, depressing, or frightening. I admit I selfishly wish it only rained at night, when I am tucked in my bed, so I could be comforted by hearing it, appreciate its benefits, but not endure the discomfort of a dripping umbrella or wet clothes, shoes, and hair!

Similarly, we often view the storms of life, hard situations, negatively. But what if life storms actually lead us toward far more life? What if we focused on their benefits rather than our discomfort?

It is common to believe we should be exempt from hardship and suffering, that we deserve perpetually good circumstances. This is not logical! When we look at God’s original plan for creation in Genesis 1 and 2, suffering was not included. But Adam and Eve chose to assert their own will rather than contentedly follow God’s will. Perhaps if they had realized suffering would be a result of sinning they would have chosen differently. Yet God, in His infinite kindness, brings good from our suffering.

God did not even spare His own Son from suffering on this earth. It was His suffering that paid the penalty for our sin and opened the door for us to have a restored relationship with God:

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3-5, NIV)

Jesus faced worse life storms than any other human! Fortunately suffering is not the end of His story; Isaiah prophesied the good it would produce:

After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:11-12, NIV)

None of us will ever suffer as much as Jesus did. But our suffering can bring good, too. It enables us to see the light of life. It changes our perspective, even bringing satisfaction and thankfulness. Consider how these verses describe the outcome of suffering:

He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. (Psalm 147:8, NIV)

Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. (Hebrews 6:7, NIV)

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45, NIV)

Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful… (Joel 2:23, NIV)

Jesus even used an intense storm to show His disciples who He was:

The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” (Luke 8:24-25, NIV)

Jesus offered His disciples far more life that day by showing His power and revealing His divinity. He invited them to put their faith in Him. He is bigger than any storm we face and willing to use that power for our benefit:

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32, NIV)

God will not withhold anything we need (Philippians 4:19).

Everything He does or allows — even suffering — is for the good of His children (Romans 8:28).

Thankfully, through faith in Christ, our suffering will come to an end (2 Peter 3:13).

He will wipe every tear from our eye (Revelation 21:4).

We will see and understand God’s bigger perspective (I Corinthians 13:12).

Until then, we have a choice: despise the storms or look for the beauty the rain brings. Choose to look for beauty — and find far more life!

Sisters,
Do you feel positive or negative about rain and storms? Why?
Think of a life storm you have experienced. What spiritual benefit did you gain from it?
What is your response to reading about Jesus’ suffering?
Thank God that Jesus paid the price so our suffering will one day end.
Commit to look for beauty and far more life in your next (or current) life storm.
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso
Photo Credit: Kim Reem

Foundational Truth

“You are still his mom.”

These words were a balm to my aching heart as I struggled to understand exactly what I was grieving about my son’s upcoming out-of-state move. I expected to be sad; change is often hard for me and I have spent every day of the past 20 years investing in him. And I understood the bittersweet happiness of watching his face light up as he counted down the days until his new solo adventure began; he is leaving home to pursue the dreams and goals he has been working toward since he was quite young. But my grief was surprisingly bigger and deeper than I had expected.

I told my husband the strength of my grief must mean this life change was revealing a false belief I held about my identity. Although raising my children was an important job, intellectually I knew it did not define me. While mothering has been a focused, sacrificial, time-intensive effort, it was not the foundation on which my life was built. But somewhere along the line, I unknowingly adopted the belief that being a mom was who I was. My sense of value was threatened when I realized I would no longer be investing in my son face-to-face each day. My husband’s response – you are still his mom – reminded me of an important truth: my role as a mom has changed many times over the years, but my identity has remained the same.

I am thankful that my significance, security, and acceptance – and my experience of far more life — do not come from being a mom. In fact, they are not based on any human relationship or earthly role. Instead they come from Christ and my relationship with Him. One day my roles as wife, mother, friend, daughter, sister, ministry leader, employee, and more will come to an end. But I will remain who I am in Christ forever. And while my earthly roles are rewarding for a short time, they are not the foundation of far more life that brings contentment and joy for eternity.

Dr. Neil T. Anderson pulled together a list of Biblical descriptions of our identity in Christ. They provide a wonderful reminder of what is unchanging and valuable about each of God’s children. These are our defining characteristics, what truly give us significance, security and acceptance. Even if everything else is stripped away from our lives, these foundational truths remain intact. Read through the list slowly, letting the importance of each statement about your identity sink in.

  • I am God’s child. (John 1:12)
  • I am Christ’s friend. (John 15:15)
  • I have been justified. (Romans 5:1)
  • I am united with the Lord and one with Him in spirit. (I Corinthians 6:17)
  • I have been bought with a price; I belong to God. (I Corinthians 6:20)
  • I am a member of Christ’s body. (I Corinthians 12:27)
  • I am a saint. (Ephesians 1:1)
  • I have been adopted as God’s child. (Ephesians 1:5)
  • I have direct access to God through the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 2:18)
  • I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins. (Colossians 1:14)
  • I am complete in Christ. (Colossians 2:10)
  • I am free forever from condemnation. (Romans 8:1-2)
  • I am assured that all things work together for good. (Romans 8:28)
  • I am free from any condemning charges against me. (Romans 8:33-34)
  • I cannot be separated from the love of God. (Romans 8:35)
  • I have been established, anointed and sealed by God. (2 Corinthians 1:21)
  • I am hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)
  • I am confident that the good work God has begun in me will be perfected. (Philippians 1:6)
  • I am a citizen of heaven. (Philippians 3:20)
  • I have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)
  • I can find grace and mercy in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
  • I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me. (I John 5:18)
  • I am the salt and light of the earth. (Matthew 5:13-14)
  • I am a branch of the true vine, a channel of His life. (John 15:1, 5)
  • I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit. (John 15:16)
  • I am a personal witness of Christ’s. (Acts 1:8)
  • I am God’s temple. (I Corinthians 3:16)
  • I am a minister of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)
  • I am God’s coworker. (2 Corinthians 6:1)
  • I am seated with Christ in the heavenly realm. (Ephesians 2:6)
  • I am God’s masterpiece. (Ephesians 2:10)
  • I may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Ephesians 3:12)
  • I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

I am thankful for these reminders of the identity God has given me in Christ. I will probably need to revisit them again next week when my daughter moves out of the house. I do not know what false beliefs that change will reveal, but I am thankful God’s truth is reliable and unchanging! He is the only foundation on which we can build far more life.

Sisters,
What has challenged your sense of identity?
Where, besides Christ, have you looked for significance, security, and acceptance?
As you read the list of truths, which were most meaningful? For any that were hard to believe or accept, what do you believe instead? Consider talking to God about the differences and working to discover the barriers that keep you from readily accepting His truth.
Thank God for being the stable foundation on which you build far more life!
-Shari

Seeing the Unseen

Our outlook makes a big difference in how we interpret things happening to and around us. You may have heard the joke about the two children who received horse manure for Christmas: one was depressed and angry while the other eagerly exclaimed, “You got me a pony!”

If we are honest, we encounter some form of “manure” every day of our lives. This can include our physical health, finances, relationships, jobs, or any other negative circumstance. Some of us tend to be more optimistic, others more pessimistic; but those are not the only viewpoints to consider. We must also choose whether to view our lives with temporary or eternal vision. The Apostle Paul states it this way:

And this small and temporary trouble we suffer will bring us a tremendous and eternal glory, much greater than the trouble. For we fix our attention, not on things that are seen, but on things that are unseen. What can be seen lasts only for a time, but what cannot be seen lasts forever. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, GNT)

While we are enduring them, our troubles often feel large rather than small and long-term rather than temporary. But that indicates we are relying on our temporal vision. Using eternal vision, we can see that our 78 or so years on this earth are merely a blip of eternity. And the worst difficulty we face in this life is insignificant compared to the splendor of being with God and removed from all evil forever. Far more life does not protect us from trouble, but it does allow us to see the unseen.

It makes sense that our vision gets stuck on the temporary. After all, that is all we have ever known! The matters of physical life loom large for us because our senses are attuned to them. But what if our goals were bigger than comfort, physical health, and security on Earth? What if we stopped to consider what our thoughts and actions truly indicated about our understanding of God and His perspective? That is where we find far more life by seeing the unseen!

Ask yourself these questions:

  • When I face troubles does my response show that I believe God is working for my good, as promised in Romans 8:28?
  • When I encounter difficulties, do I focus on them or Jesus? Like Peter in Matthew 14, do the winds and waves distract me from Jesus’ presence and power?
  • Do I, like Joseph in Genesis 50:20, proclaim that God’s goodness is more powerful than the evil intentions of Satan and people? Do I live this out during the challenge?
  • Do my reactions indicate that I treasure current relationships, possessions, and status more than I treasure God’s purpose and plans (Matthew 6:19-21)?

Our answers help us understand areas where we have opportunities to see the unseen and grow in far more life. But how do we do that? I think there are 3 components to a far more life relationship with God that has eternal vision: listening to God, talking to God, and looking for God.

Far more life listens to God. When you are getting to know someone, you want to learn about them and that often involves listening to them. We listen to what they think and feel, what they have experienced, and what is important to them, and their future plans. By listening to what they say and how they say it we learn about their character, too. If what we hear is appealing to us, we keep listening! The same is true with God. Although we cannot meet Him for coffee, we can listen to Him speak through His Word. As we study it, we can learn about His character and hear His thoughts, feelings, experiences, priorities, past experiences, and future plans. Even though we cannot see His body or audibly hear His voice, we can understand and adopt His eternal vision — seeing the unseen — as we listen to Him. He promises:

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13, NIV)

Far more life talks to God. We all know that growing relationships require on-going communication. This is true of our relationship with God as well. We can talk to Him about ANYTHING! Nothing we share will shock Him or damage our relationship; He will never think less of us, no matter what we confess to Him. He will never betray us by revealing our concerns or sins to others. He is never put off by our doubts, questions, or fears. He can absorb our anger without lashing back. He wants us to share our hopes and dreams with Him. Sometimes He waits to give us good gifts until we ask for them. Eternal vision requires that we talk to God about everything.

For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer… (I Peter 3:12, NIV)

Far more life looks for God. Since God is working all the time (John 5:17), His work is visible to us if we look for it. People who do not know God refer to His work as luck, coincidence, fate, Mother Nature, and more, but God’s friends recognize His work! To stay focused on the eternal and see the unseen, we must look for and acknowledge His work, both in and around us.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8, NIV)

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20, NIV)

I hope you look at your troubles and successes, challenges and triumphs with eternal vision. Because that is where you see the unseen and find far more life!

Sisters,
Prayerfully consider and answer the questions presented in the text.
Is your eternal vision weakest in listening to God, talking to Him, or looking for Him? What is your next step in seeing the unseen?
Invest in your eternal vision this week by pursuing far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Heart Desires

What do you desire?

A lot of things may come to your mind: enough money to pay bills and have fun; more or better relationships; better health; a break; more sleep; more fun; less stress. Some answers vary based on our life circumstances while others are universal. But if we dig beneath the surface to analyze our desires, I think most of our desires fit into these categories: safety; security; belonging; and purpose.

We all desire that our physical, mental, and emotional needs are met; that is a basic human trait. We desire safe places to live, work, learn, and play. We desire enough money to cover all our needs and some of our wants. We desire to connect with other people in a meaningful way. We desire to know why we exist and to do something that matters.

But sometimes we believe these desires are unattainable. We believe God is letting us down because our desires — even our basic needs — are going unmet. We struggle to understand why, then read a verse like this:

Make God the utmost delight and pleasure of your life, and he will provide for you what you desire the most. (Psalm 37:4, TPT)

If we are doing our best to follow God, yet our desires are unfulfilled, this is a hard verse to swallow. We might believe there is something wrong with us. We might believe we aren’t good enough. We might believe we aren’t doing enough to make God happy. After all, God is perfect, so there can’t be anything wrong with Him; the problem must be with us, right? We believe far more life is outside our grasp. We feel helpless and hopeless, that we will never reach it. I’ve been there. Have you?

Too often we think God is like Santa Claus; if we are good, He will give us the things on our wish list. But that’s not how God works! He wants to be our biggest desire. One Psalmist states it this way:

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. (Psalm 73:25, NIV)

Can you say this? I confess that too often I cannot. I desire God a lot more than many things, but there are still relationships and desires that compete for the #1 most desired slot in my heart. Far more life recognizes that desiring God is far superior to everything else. This is where we find fulfillment.

But God knows we are distracted by other desires. He doesn’t condemn us for those, but He may not fulfill those desires. Because He knows they are not the best for us in the long run. And He wants what is best for us.

When our desire for God is our top priority, that is far more life. We begin to see life from His eternal perspective. We are fulfilled. We are satisfied. We have passion and enthusiasm for life. Our desires change to line up with His. We want for everyone to acknowledge God as Lord. One prophet declared:

Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. (Isaiah 26:8b, NIV)

Satan tries to convince us that making God our utmost delight and pleasure means that we will miss out or be dissatisfied. But God’s Word offers this truth:

What the righteous desire leads only to good, but what the wicked hope for leads to wrath. (Proverbs 11:23, NET)

Our righteous desires lead ONLY to good! We are guaranteed a good outcome when we follow those desires. Sometimes the good results are not quickly evident. When I was a new graduate, my desire was to stay in that city and help reach people there for Christ. But it took several months to find a job that met my financial need. I still do not know what “good” came out of paying for necessities on a credit card and going into debt. Maybe my character grew. Maybe I had an eternal impact on someone without knowing it. But I trust that my righteous desire led to good. Why? Because it doesn’t depend on me.

For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. (Philippians 2:13, NLT)

God is the source of our righteous desires. And He is working in us to not only desire what is good but to do it. Isn’t it awesome that He does it all? He makes us righteous. He gives us righteous desires. He empowers us to fulfill those righteous desires. He causes good to come from them. Far more life embraces God-given righteous desires and uses His power to live them out.

God will meet our basic desires perfectly, even when they look different than we expect. He offers us perfect safety (Psalm 4:8 and Proverbs 18:10, NASB). He offers us perfect security (Proverbs 3, NASB). He offers us perfect belonging (Romans 14:8, NIV). He offers us perfect purpose (Exodus 9:16 and Romans 8:28, NIV). He alone offers far more life!

Sisters,
When you read Psalm 37:4, does you feel good or bad? If bad, what do you believe about God or yourself that is distorting this verse?
When have you thought of God as Santa Claus? Commit to pursuing a relationship with Him instead of just giving Him your wish list.
What competes with God for your desire?
How have you seen God give you righteous desires and power?
Find far more life this week as you make Him your biggest desire!
-Shari

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso