Remaining Close to Christ Throughout Challenging Seasons
by THE SET APART TEAM
ABIDING IN SEASONS OF BUSYNESS
by LESLIE LUDY
One of my favorite quotes from Corrie ten Boom says, “Don’t pray when you feel like it, rather, have an appointment with the Lord and keep it.” This is a great principle when it comes to abiding in Christ during busy seasons! When we are busy, we so often think that prayer or spending time in God’s Word can be shuffled around and pushed to the side. We think, I can’t do this today because I have this going on … and pretty soon we find that a week or two goes by, and we haven’t spent any time with the Lord. The “appointment with God” principle helps to guard our times with Him — especially in busy seasons.
In my current stage of life, usually the best “appointment” for me to have with the Lord is early in the morning before my kids wake up. I think that’s true for a lot of us. It’s the one time of day when it’s quiet and we won’t be interrupted by other things. But it’s easy to groan at the thought of setting an appointment with the Lord early in the morning.
I love what Elisabeth Elliot said, “The best time for most people is early morning — not because most of us love jumping out of bed, but because it’s the only time of day when we can be fairly sure of not being interrupted and because it is best to commune with God before you commune with people.” She continues, “Your attitude toward them will then arise out of your life in Him. Offering to God the first hour of the day is a token of consecration of all our time.”
Getting right with God, making Him your first priority, and flooding your mind, heart, and spirit with heavenly perspective before you start to interact with others is a wonderful way to lay a Christ-centered foundation for your day. If you look at Scripture, high value is placed on waking up early, sometimes even before dawn, and giving the first fruits of our day to God in prayer, worship, and seeking His face. Here are just a few:
“You are my God; early I will seek You; my soul thirsts for You…”(Ps. 63:1).
“Awake, my glory! Awake, lute and harp! I will awaken the dawn” (Ps. 57:8).
And the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31, “arises while it is yet night…” (v. 15).
Jesus Himself set an example of rising early to seek the Father’s face. It says in Mark 1:35, “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.”
John Bunyan once wrote, “He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find Him the rest of the day.” Personally I have found this principle to be very true in my own life. If I allow myself to oversleep or merely get caught up in trying to do too many things and miss my time in God’s presence, it can make the whole day feel off. But when I discipline my body and make my early morning times with the Lord an appointment, it’s so much easier to walk in the presence of my King for the rest of the day. Jesus said to, “Seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33). When we apply this command to our lives by seeking Him as our first act of the day, we will often find that every other area of our lives comes into alignment — no matter how busy we are.
There have definitely been seasons when it was not possible for me to wake up before my children; times when I was up all night with a newborn or struggling with a physical issue that impacted my sleep. If you are experiencing your own set of unusual circumstances, I would encourage you to be as creative as possible in fitting spiritual growth into your daily life. Listening to audio Scripture as you get things done around the house, sneak in a quick but effective prayer time while the kids are napping, and reading (or listening to) Christian biographies before bed at night. There are also a handful of short but powerful devotionals that can boost your faith. My favorites are My Utmost for His Highest, Daily Light, and Streams in the Desert.
As you build your life around this principle of maintaining an appointment with the Lord and setting Him first in your day, I pray that He leads you practically and blesses your intentional pursuit of His heart.
PRESSING IN THROUGH SEASONS OF WAITING
by SARAH GUTHRIE
Such a short sentence, but the ache that backs those two words is keenly felt by all who have shared in its particular season. At times they have felt like sandpaper on my tongue … representing the exact opposite of what I wanted or what I thought God was doing … but then something happened, or didn’t happen, and I was left on the lonely shore of waiting.
From our vantage point, we longingly gaze at those who have charted their course, have the wind of the Spirit filling their sails, and blaze through waters which remain uncharted to us. Will we find heavenly beauty in our own barrenness? This is a crucial part of our own journey, for here we are presented with two distinct courses of action — faith or unbelief, worship or worry, contentment or dissatisfaction. It is here that we will yield or recoil to the expertly drafted terms of our God. The Almighty has lovingly drawn boundary lines around each life with our assigned portion — a portion that Scripture tells us is good; a better portion filled with ways that are higher than our own. It takes eyes gleaming with faith to lift empty hands in worship before the Lord and declare that they are surely filled with goodness and mercy all the days of our lives.
With every invitation I receive to wait on the Lord, I have come to view each one as an opportunity to be enriched by His embrace. When I lay down my wrinkled hopes and tear-stained dreams, and choose instead to lean in close so He can wipe my tears with His promises and exchange my own whispers of fear and foreboding for His steady voice of truth, I am strengthened by His ministering care as I realize that all other comfort falls short.
Waiting is full of purpose to those who maximize that time to grow their faith in God’s Word and steep their hearts in hope of what is not seen. And while you may think you are waiting for Him, did you ever think, dear one, that maybe He is also waiting for you? Remember, He is for you. Run to Him. Then watch in wonder as He expertly cares for and guides that which is dearest to your heart.
Waiting is your invitation to…
Wonder at His ways and worship Him for all He is — instead of wallowing, choose to worship. Dance, sing, exult over His creation, walk as you pray — whatever best expresses your adoration to the God of the Universe!
Draw near in poured-out prayer — do not hold back from sharing the deepest parts of yourself with the Lord who knit you together in your mother’s womb. He already knows all things, but He wants you to share your things with Him. Remember that He is working in your waiting, accomplishing thousands of details in between your own ask and receive. (See John 16:24.)
Find comfort in the words of those who have waited — I have trusted reads that I revisit when my own heart needs shoring up and would love to share a few with you today! The Path of Loneliness and Suffering is Never for Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot, A Cluster of Camphire by Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, Parables of the Christ-Life by Lilias Trotter.
Do the next thing — usually, not all of life is waiting. Certainly you can do something, even one thing, in some sphere of life. What is that one thing that you can do full of faith and for His glory today? Start there and make a beginning. Make your bed. Serve the Body of Christ. Jot that note. Refresh others in your waiting.
Hallmark significant Scriptures — God’s Word says that “deep calls unto deep” (Ps. 42:7) and often God’s Spirit highlights profound portions of His Word to keep my heart fixed in seasons of waiting. A few of my favorites are: Psalm 37:1–8, Psalm 42:5, Psalm 130:5–6, Psalm 145:15–16, Isaiah 40:31, Isaiah 43:1, and Lamentations 3:21–26.
STAYING CLOSE TO JESUS AMID SUFFERING
by HEATHER COFER
About 12 years ago I began experiencing some odd health issues. Since then, I’ve been to doctors and specialists to try to diagnose the problem, but it’s been really tough to get to the bottom of it all. I’ll get a clue here and there, find a supplement that relieves symptoms for a time, and do what I can to maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, there is an underlying physical suffering that is almost continually present. My suffering is certainly not as severe as many who have walked through chronic illness, but it has not come without its own share of trials. It’s easy to feel alone or even a bit silly because so many of my symptoms are “invisible,” which brings a unique kind of emotional suffering along with it.
One afternoon several months ago, I was feeling particularly overwhelmed by the physical struggle and lack of answers. I laid on my bed and, through tears, cried out to the Lord. “There are so few answers, Lord, and I think people are just going to stop believing me…” And then the Lord so gently and graciously impressed on my heart, but I see and I understand. In that moment, my weeping turned from tears of pain to tears of gratitude. My feelings of isolation gave way to a deep sense of being loved and cared for by my Creator. And I realized that this trial was being used by God to draw me closer to Him in greater intimacy. He had all the answers and understood exactly what I was walking through, and I knew I could rest in Him and His love even when He chose to keep those answers from me.
Here are some practical ways that I have been encouraged as I’ve abided with Christ in the midst of suffering.
Comfort in God’s Word
“This is my comfort in affliction, that your promise gives me life” (Ps. 119:50 ESV).
Sometimes we can begin to believe the lie that God’s Word is an insufficient band-aid for our suffering or a way to try to brush over the struggle we are walking through. But in reality, Scripture is the only place we will find words of deep and lasting comfort. His Word is living and active, and will open our eyes to more and more of how good, loving, kind, gentle, and merciful our Savior is. (See Hebrews 4:12.) I cannot count the times God has used a passage of Scripture to encourage me, whether in my own reading or a verse someone sends along at just the right moment. The Bible is an incredibly precious gift in the midst of suffering because it points us back to the One who loves us more than we can fathom.
“I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High” (Ps. 9:2 ESV).
Filling the air with beautiful sounds of worship and declaring those truths with my own lips is such a balm when I am weary, discouraged, or feeling unwell. It takes my eyes off myself and turns them onto Jesus, reminding me of His goodness and glory. Worship is a beautiful reminder that this earth is not my eternal home and that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for [me] an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17 ESV). Praising the Lord helps me delight myself in Him and be refreshed in His presence.
If you are in a season of suffering, be encouraged that this is one of God’s chosen means of helping you experience Him more intimately this side of Heaven. He will use our suffering to refine and sanctify us so His glory can shine more brilliantly in and through our lives.
ABIDING IN CHRIST THROUGH YOUR GRIEF
by ANNIE WESCHE
Three years ago, after a six-month battle with brain cancer, the Lord led my beautiful Mum from our earthly embrace into His glorious presence. I’ve known nothing as heart-wrenching as watching one so beloved suffer as she did; but caring for her and watching her prepare to meet her Savior face-to-face has been one of the greatest honors and treasures of my life. God gifted us that precious time with her, and knowing even in small measure what she is now experiencing with Jesus has been a balm of peace and true joy, even as I have walked through the valley of loss and grief.
After we had Mum’s funeral the quietness settled in around us. I felt a weariness and anguish more heavy than words can express as I realized that for the rest of my earthly life I had lost not only my beloved mother, but the woman who had been my spiritual mentor and dearest earthly friend. At times, my heart would steady, only to meet with another wave of grief and disbelief that her vibrant, loving presence was no longer with us. But in every single moment of my mourning, there was One ever with me, ever faithful and strong, and He tenderly led me through my grief — loving me, carrying me, comforting me, and teaching me more of His marvelous ways.
Still, I struggled to have my normal times in the Word. I would open my Bible but soon be overcome with tears as I drew near to my Father. So I gave Him my tears. And for a time, my abiding closely to Jesus came through my desperate cries for help when I’d awaken in the night with grief. It came through speaking His promises aloud when waves of sadness would come and threaten my soul’s peace. And it came by keeping a tight hold of who I know my God to be as I faced the questions of what my future would look like without this beloved woman.
The God of all comfort led me through that valley, and still leads me with a comfort and joy that has no equal. As I share a few of the ways I found strength in Him, it is my prayer that the Comforter Himself will come and minister to your heart as only He can.
Looking Upon Christ’s Grief
What a comfort to know that He knows and He understands. In John 11, we are given a precious glimpse of Jesus’ own grief at the death of his beloved friend. Being God, He knew that He would raise Lazarus from the dead, but drawing near to the place where Lazarus was entombed, He wept (v. 35). Jesus has known the deep ache of loss, and by His own example He has given a place for grief. Who better to bring our grief to than the One who not only understands it, but is able to comfort, fill, and heal our aching hearts?
Looking to His Word
There is a mighty, wonder-working power when we give ourselves to the Word of God. In fixing our hearts upon His promises and comforts — like Psalm 16:8–11, Psalm 34:18, Psalm 61:2, Isaiah 26:3, and 2 Corinthians 1:3 — we will find strength, heavenly perspective, hope, and even joy. For we, as children of the King, do not grieve as those who have no hope. (See 1 Thessalonians 4:13.)
Looking to His Goodness
To those soul-questions that ask the Lord why, we can have the assurance that He does “all things well” (Mark 7:37) and that “…all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). It brings an anchor amid the waves of grief when we leave it to Him to be God, and for us, His loved child and servant, to trust that His ways are high above our own. (See Isaiah 55:9.) I cannot know the reasons why He took my Mum when He did, but when I trust in His goodness and purposes, my eyes begin to see that — even in this — there are so many ways He has brought forth beauty, a witness to others, and my own soul’s growth in Jesus through my mum’s departure for glory.
RIDING THE WAVES OF CHANGE
by MANDY SAELER
The ocean has always been my favorite place away from home. The sparkling sand, the sound of breaking waves, the lingering scent of salt in the air, and eyes squinting in the bright sun are the perfect combination for rest, refreshment, and reflection. Throughout my spiritual journey, trips to the ocean have coincided with significant seasons — so as I prepared for a life-changing move across the country, it wasn’t surprising that the familiar ocean scenery surfaced afresh. However, this time it was the remembrance of the ocean that ministered to me in the form of a metaphor, speaking volumes of truth to my heart from a distance.
From the many family trips I’d taken to the beach in my growing up years, I’d learned that there are several ways to respond to an approaching ocean wave: you can duck under it, ride it, or simply do nothing and be crushed by it. The choice is ours. And while we are hopefully mindful enough to avoid the latter, there are still two options. Option one: Hold your breath, duck under, and let the wave wash over you. (And hope that upon resurfacing another isn’t breaking.) Option two: Apprehend the wave and ride with it. (And if another wave does break behind you, it will only carry you closer to the shore.)
When life swells and breaks into a foaming swirl of change, would you rather hold your breath and hesitate to resurface, or launch into the momentum of the churning wave and ride with it?
Ride the wave.
Those simple words became a expression of surrender for my heart through my season of change. And the ocean waves reflected a reminder of truth to trust the One who’d brought about the change, allowing Him to lead me through the transition into a new season. The underlying concept was to apprehend the coming change and cooperate with it, as opposed to resisting or wrestling against it.
Ride the wave.
I had been immensely prayerful over several months in making that life-changing decision. As practical preparations began, I continued to spend ample time in prayer, seeking God’s heart and desire for the new season unfolding before me. My heart was alight with anticipation for the coming change … and yet, at the same time, my heart was grieving the good things that were being given up in the decision I’d made. There was both sacrifice and gain, and my heart swayed between sweetness and sadness.
I filled many journal pages processing what God was walking me through, and it was in those times alone with Him that His kindness prepared me for what lie ahead. One way was through the metaphorical expression of trust and surrender that He whispered to my heart: ride the wave. Once again, the ocean was embedded into a significant season of my life as I perceived “the voice of the Lord upon the waters” (Ps. 29:3). I remembered those simple words for many months as I continued to let go of one chapter and lean into the next.
Did “riding the wave” mean that my season of change wasn’t challenging? After all, my heart was surrendered to the Lord and my eyes were on Him. Shouldn’t that make change easy? No, not necessarily. I distinctly felt the upheaval of sand and shells beneath me and, at times, even experienced the sting of salt water in my eyes. But the abiding posture of my heart was surrender and trust. Even as the wave of change crested, I knew that I was being carried along by God’s grace.
Throughout the numerous seasons of change I’ve experienced — the unexpected and anticipated alike — the most valuable way of processing these changes has been time spent alone in the presence of my God. Cultivating closeness with the Lord has been the single most strengthening element of my life in every season.
For you, dear reader, as you experience your own waves of change — my greatest encouragement to you would be to spend time alone with God in the deep. When He ushers you to the breakers, what He has established in your soul and whispered to your heart beyond the shore will lead you in triumph atop the cresting waves. Truly, time in God’s presence is the greatest preparation for the unexpected future … whatever may come.