Called to Boldness: A Sister, Wild Swans and Nettle

“Tender-handed stroke a nettle, And it stings you, for your pains:
Grasp it like a man of mettle, And it soft as silk remains.”
Aaron Hill’s Works, circa 1750.

This metaphorical phrase to grasp the nettle, to tackle a difficulty boldly, is one I only vaguely remember prior to several years ago when I had a painful encounter with nettle. Watering a plant in a hanging basket on my deck, I suddenly felt a pain as if stung by a bee. I looked at my hand and at the plant but could find no stinging insect. Upon a closer inspection I saw a small stem of a plant that was clearly not part of my flowering fuschia. I could only detect very small hair-like “brushes” growing along the stem. It didn’t look intimidating, but I didn’t want to test it.

The pain in my hand where I had been “stung” grew worse throughout the evening. It became red and somewhat swollen. An avid perenial gardener, I pulled out my plant books determined to learn what it was, soon declaring that it must be nettle!

Nettle. This rang a bell from long ago in my childhood, and memories slowly crept back.

nettle

There are stories we read as children which have such a profound impact on us that they linger deep within. One such story which I had not thought about in decades, was about a selfless sister who gathered nettle from a graveyard by night, and with her bare hands knit it into magical shirts for her eleven beloved brothers who had been cast by a spell into wild swans. Furthermore, this young girl had to take a vow of silence until her task was complete, because to speak of what she must do would bring immediate death to her brothers. People did not understand why she gathered nettle at night and knit in silence with blistered hands, so they called her a witch and sentenced her to death by burning. Risking their own lives, the swan brothers swooped in to rescue their sister who continued to knit even as she was taken to execution. At the last minute, she flung the woven shirts to her brothers, the wild swans. They were restored to men, all but the arm of one, and she was finally free to speak. The Wild Swans was written by Hans Christian Andersen and first published in 1838.

Self-sacrificial love at any cost. Boldness.

God does not call us to be timid. He gives power through His Spirit to stand boldly against sin and oppression, and to share the burdens of our brothers and sisters in their time of need.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7

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Lifted

I sing praise to God for his faithfulness, compassion, gentle mercies and unending love! He carried me through the darkest valley, and renewed my strength and hope. I am grateful for my brothers and sisters who listened and prayed with me. For those who never stopped encouraging me: “Thank you” seems inadequate.

For any Believer who is still learning the charge we have been given within the Body, which I originally wrote about in a post entitled Humility (see below), this resource may be helpful. Brad Hambrick writes with far more eloquence and authority than I ever could.

Blessings.

What God is Teaching

“You act like you are the 1st person to go through a divorce”.

This was the chastisement I recently received from a fellow Believer. This friend has, by their own account, never experienced any major grief events in their life. This is a first for me.

I’ve discussed Encouragement from the Body of Christ in a previous post, and it is clear that God instructs us to carry the weak and be patient and longsuffering with one another. The “one another” are our brothers and sisters in Christ. As a Believer, my Hope rests in God’s faithfulness. I trust Him to provide for my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs. There is no doubt in my mind of my salvation through Christ Jesus, or of God’s ability and desire to supply all my needs. My Father wants the best for me, not just the best from me.

This hope…

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He is a Good Father

Psalm 139, Phillipians 4:5-7, I Peter 5:6-9

Overwhelmed by God’s great love for me, I sent a text to a friend that said: I don’t know why God loves me so much.

The reply, just these 5 simple words, made me cry: He is a good father.

Indeed. He is.

Daily, I see God’s provision. I’ve felt His presence and have been amazed and humbled by His blessings. I continue to experience His gentle patience with me as I adjust to and maneuver through major changes and losses in my life.

Life’s struggles can leave us wounded and weary. And although I am living in God’s love and grace, I sometimes lately feel isolated, and succumb to fear and stress.

In my darkest hour, when I am overwhelmed with life, overcome by despair, and operating only on emotion, no amount of reason can make me see clearly. Logic is no longer part of the equation.

You can tell me that things will get better, that my kids still need me, that a lot of people care about me – and right now I know that to be true. But the reality is that when I go over that edge, I lose hope and no longer am able to believe those things, nor do I care. Life is too heavy a burden and I begin to see the Exit ramp as a very appealing alternative.

I shared my struggle last week with a trusted friend and this was her reply:

You don’t have the right to enter into the Lord’s presence until He calls you home.

She said this gently and with love. Time and again, she has spoken wisdom and truth into my life, but this resonated with me more than anything else. Like an arrow hitting its mark, her words went right to my heart. The gravity, reverence and power in that sentence took me completely by surprise.

I don’t have the right…ouch. So true. How could I forget that God is at the center of the universe? And He is always in control!

I took my eyes off of Him. I stopped trusting Him. As I prayed for God’s forgiveness, I knew He already had. God the Creator of the universe chooses to know me intimately, to have a relationship with me. He chooses to set His love on me and my worth is defined by Him:

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? Psalm 139:1-7

He will protect me from the attacks of the enemy, provide friends to come alongside, and He will give me strength, wisdom and discernment to navigate life’s crooked path. I love Him because He first loved me…and I know He always will.

Yes. He is a good father.

Unworthy

The Ninevites were the worst of the worst, an evil society that committed unspeakable crimes. I’ll be forthcoming in saying that I would have probably wanted the Ninevites to perish, too. In fact, I struggle with these emotions whenever I hear another news story about an abused child or woman.unworthy-reliance

Yet, all sin separates us from God; and Jesus died once for all who will accept His gift of salvation. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:23-24

But passages in the Old Testament show us that there were different penalties for various sins. And in the New Testament it is pride that Jesus spoke out most strongly against. However, I am not writing to debate the degrees of sin or how God will judge. Others speak to this issue far better than I could ever hope to.

Instead, I want get to the heart of what seems to be the point. Jonah, who fled from God yet was given a second chance, was judging. The Ninevites weren’t his to judge.

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Jonah 3:10-4:4

In recent months, my eyes have been opened to how often we set ourselves up on higher ground and judge others – even amongst our brothers and sisters in Christ. Perhaps we are unaware that we are doing it. When your life is running smoothly, it is easy to become prideful and give yourself far too much credit. It is also easy to become judgmental toward those whose lives turn a bit messy. But there is no need for me to compare myself to anyone except Christ. I always fall short.

As my focus shifts away from myself and more fully onto God, I see how unworthy I am.

I am grateful for God’s amazing grace and immeasurable love. When we reach a place of total reliance on Him, we understand how truly needy we are. That is when we are most able to serve with humility and extend grace to others who are struggling.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had. Romans 15:5

Read more Jonah 3&4 devotionals at #SheReadsTruth.

Humility

“You act like you are the 1st person to go through a divorce”.

This was the chastisement I recently received from a fellow Believer, and like a knife driven in deep it cut to the quick. This friend has, by their own account, never experienced any major grief events in their life. This is a first for me.

I’ve discussed Encouragement from the Body of Christ in a previous post, and it is clear that God instructs us to carry the weak and be patient and longsuffering with one another. The “one another” are our brothers and sisters in Christ. As a Believer, my Hope rests in God’s faithfulness. I trust Him to provide for my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs. There is no doubt in my mind of my salvation through Christ Jesus, or of God’s ability and desire to supply all my needs. My Father wants the best for me, not just the best from me.

This hope, trust, and faith is what ties us together as Believers. The fact that we are truly brothers and sisters in Christ, “God’s kids”, gives us a connection that cannot be broken, cannot be matched, and should be revered.

At this point you may be wondering where all this is leading since I began with “Humility“.

Here is the thing: no one has walked in my shoes. I am doing the best I can each day, hour by hour. I know I have been unlovable at times, and I know I have been angry and spoken harshly; and this genuinely grieves me and adds to my sorrow. When this has happened I was truly at a place of such despair – filled with fear and loss of hope – that I could not move past it. Often times, in the midst of this darkness, I have felt the physical presence of Holy Spirit bring peace, relief and comfort that instantly washed over me.

But God works through people, too, and there have been times when whatever issue had brought on this panic needed to be resolved in my mind. This might be as simple as clarification of a miscommunication, because the enemy attacks us where we are most vulnerable. Once the resolution took place, so that my mind could process the facts and the facts led back to a “safe place”, my entire perspective was changed.

I’m not in any way excusing myself from owning my offenses. I am deeply remorseful and have sought forgiveness from God and from the offended. But I cannot emphasize this enough: the valley of grief is not a familiar road, nor is it filled with predictable circumstances; therefore, “normal” behavior and response to situations get temporarily redefined. Just Google “Stages of Grief” to see what I am talking about.

In this most fragile state, every bump in the road is amplified and devastating. When too many bumps come in rapid succession, the resulting panic may not be understandable to the ones not on that road. As I became more aware of the waves of grief that would overtake me, this too raised my anxiety because I feared it happening again. I have spent more time on my knees in prayer and in Scripture. I have and will continue to take these things to the Lord.

For me there is new-found wisdom in this. I have learned that this is the nature of grief, yet God loves me through it. For those who have not walked this road of sorrow, I am truly glad – I don’t wish this for anyone. But please be mindful of the very real pain that those who are on that road must endure. Empathize, encourage and support them in every way. Do not deal harshly with them and be ready to forgive. Remember that this is a lesson best learned by observation rather than through experience.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12

I am still learning what God is teaching, and what I have learned lately is that God wants us to be gentle with those whose spirits are crushed.

Encouragement from the Body of Christ

Offering hope and encouragement to people who are only struggling with minor inconveniences in life doesn’t really test one’s ability as a counselor. Much more difficult is to offer encouragement to someone who is in a deep valley, struggling with heart-wrenching sorrow, which also usually lasts over an extended period of time. This is truly a test of patience and strength.

Paul, in his letters to the early Bible-encourage, fellowship, counselchurch however, makes it very clear that we as a church body are to reach out to those who are in crisis and struggling. And not simply reach out, but for the strong to carry the weak. We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Romans 15

To the church in Thessalonica: …encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. I Thessalonians 5:14

To the church in Philippi Paul says to be: …like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Philippians 2:2-5

To the Galatians: …serve one another humbly in love. Galatians 5:13

I could go on with more examples, but it is clear that we are called to come together as one body in Christ. The elders and the stronger are to lead the flock and care for the weaker, presumably until such time as the weak are healed and able to do the same. When we no longer hear the cry for help in someone’s words…when we no longer hear the struggle, feel the pain and sorrow…when we only take offense at words as they try to express the despair and grief they are feeling…then we are no longer effective. But Peter, in speaking to the church elders, says to feed the flock and remain humble. 1 Peter 5:1-6

God desires that everyone learn and grow spiritually from the things we are tested with. So …let us run with patience the race that is set before us. Hebrews 12:1-2 In the past, I have counseled those who are in crisis and hurting. There are times when it can be difficult to love the unlovable. But each of us can be unlovable, given the right circumstances.

Below is a list I have composed of some of the words of encouragement I’ve received from friends as I walk through a deep valley in my life. Each time I read through it, I can feel the presence of the Holy Spirit offering comfort, peace and hope. I am forever grateful for the love, compassion and hope I have received from my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Sometimes encouragement can be the simplest expression, maybe a short text message:

Ya. Hang in there.

I will pray.

Amen.

Praise the Lord.

I truly do understand your pain.

My heart breaks for you.

At times encouragement can be a prayer or blessing said over someone:

May God bless your day and lead you.

May God fill you with peace to overflowing.

I pray God be with u and bless u. May he put his hand of healing upon u and strengthen u.

Encouragement can also come in the form of reassurance, even offering a pardon when I have been unlovable:

When you wake up give it to the Lord; I also have had bad experiences at night.

Stop worrying about what people think.

We might feel alone but we are not.

No need to apologize.  It’s a tough time and I understand.

You can be out of line anytime you want;) but you weren’t – in case you were wondering.

I have heard much worse. But you are right, I don’t fully understand. [You spoke] a lot of wisdom regarding God’s forgiveness and how it is ongoing. May God continue to reveal his truth to you.

I believe that in your situation [you are making] the correct decision, in God’s eyes also.

I believe that the enemy’s forces are always attacking Gods kids, especially during difficult valleys of life.

[Sometimes we] question where God is. I have had the same struggles; all I can tell you is that even though it seems that there is nothing good that can come of this, it will.

I have grown the most in the days when I didn’t think that I could go on.

You have been carrying the load yourself; you just didn’t know it.

We just have to trust God in all things; even accepting the things that we can’t change.

This period in your life will pass; you will learn to move ahead.

The struggles you are facing now is the process of spiritual growth, and it is painful but you will make it. Expect bad days, but try to make good ones.

We can’t control what happens but we can choose how to respond. Just keep hanging on to Jesus.

I am still learning what God is teaching, and what I have learned lately is that God is strong enough to care for the wounded and battle-scarred without ever giving up. He will not grow weary, will not become offended. He will heal our hearts with love and longsuffering, and see it through to the joyous other side of the storm. God is our perfect Counselor.

Will you offer encouragement and hope to someone today?