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Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary

Dena Johnson Martin

Crosswalk.com blogspot for Dena Johnson of Dena's Devos

There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless—a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil…Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.”

Satan replied to the Lord, “Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God.  You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property. You have made him prosper in everything he does. Look how rich he is! But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!”

All right, you may test him,” the Lord said to Satan. “Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don’t harm him physically.” So Satan left the Lord’s presence. Job 1:1, 8-12

And then Job lost everything. He lost his sheep. He lost his oxen and his donkeys. He lost his servants. He lost his children. Everything of value was stripped from him.

Simply because he was a man of integrity, a blameless man who fears God.

Why would God allow it? In the end, Job had this to say…

I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. Job 42:5

In the midst of the pain and suffering, Job came to know God in a new way. He saw God’s faithfulness, His tender mercies, His love. He understood God in ways he never could have without walking through the trials of this life.

Job wasn’t the only biblical character who suffered despite his righteousness. Consider the man born blind…

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. John 9:1-3

Here was a man, blind from birth, having never been able to see the beautiful creation of God’s earth. Immediately, the disciples jumped to the conclusion this man or his family must have sinned, bringing this condemnation upon himself.

Jesus’ reply? No one sinned. This illness is for God’s glory.

Scriptures are filled with stories of righteous men and women suffering, not because of a bad decision but because God allowed it to bring Him glory, to build faith in the one suffering, to sanctify and draw people closer to Him.

Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son, the one through whom the promises of God were to come.

Moses was banished from the land, forced to live in the wilderness.

Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, wrongfully imprisoned.

Daniel’s only fault was his refusal to bow to the gods, his steadfast faithfulness to the God of Israel.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace because of their devotion to God.

Stephen was stoned to death.

Paul was shipwrecked multiple times, stoned and left for dead.

All through the scriptures we see stories of God allowing pain and suffering, incredible trials, in the lives of His faithful servants.

Why?

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 2 Corinthians 4:17

I know as well as anyone that our sufferings don’t always seem light and momentary. But, when we face them God’s way, He always uses them to mold us into His image.

Does that mean that we walk through the pain perfectly? Absolutely not! I know the last month or so has been excruciating for me, and I’ve lost my focus. Does that make me less of a Christian? Does that mean I made a mistake in marrying my husband as some have suggested? Does that mean I have some sin in my life?

Absolutely not! It means that I am a human, a human who loves God but sometimes gets caught in the trials of this life. A human who sometimes becomes overwhelmed by the pain in this fallen world. A human who is daily on a mission to grow closer to God but sometimes gets distracted from the faithfulness of my Savior.

One thing we are promised in this human existence is pain. But the beauty of the Christian life is even in our pain, we have a promise of healing and hope. It’s a cycle of hurt, healing, hope.

“Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces; now he will heal us. He has injured us; now he will bandage our wounds. In just a short time he will restore us, so that we may live in his presence. Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know him. He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring.” Hosea 6:1-3

Don’t you see it?

Hurt: He has torn us to pieces…He has injured us.

Healing: Heal us…Bandage our wounds.

Hope: He will restore us…We may live in his presence…He will respond to us.

Over and over in this human existence, it happens. Hurt…incredible excruciating pain presenting itself in many kinds of circumstances. Healing…we continue to seek Him and we find His goodness and grace. Hope…He restores our lives and puts us back together again.

The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. 1 Peter 5:10

Our hope is in the person of Jesus Christ, His finished work on the cross. Our hope is in God’s promises that He is working all things for good for those who love Him. Our hope is on the promise that says He has plans to prosper us and not to harm us. Our hope is in heaven, a place where there will be no more pain or suffering.

Our hope is eternal.

Maybe like me, you’ve been in the fire. Maybe like me, you’ve lost your focus on the eternal hope. Maybe like me, you continue to try, to persevere, to trust God even as you are overwhelmed by the pain of this life.

Do not grow weary. Even in the hurt, His healing and His hope stand taller and shine brighter. He will carry us all through.

Father, it’s been a tough season. I thank you for the many examples you have given us of your faithful ones walking through the pain of this life, even when it was unfair and unexpected and undeserved. Help us to keep our eyes focused on you, on your healing and your hope, even when the pain overwhelms. But when we lose our footing, set us back on solid ground as only you can. Thank you for your grace. Thank you for your love. Thank you for loving us so much you allow us to walk through the trials of this life because we know it’s through the pain and suffering you do your greatest work. May we always allow you to use the pain of this life to do a mighty work in us so you can do a mighty work through us…just as the cloud of faithful witnesses that has gone before us. In Jesus name I pray, amen.

I’ve had several people comment on the dark tone in my posts recently. I’ll be honest: this last month has been excruciating. I have not struggled with such pain and fear since my divorce. This season might have even been darker and harder in some ways.

Over the years, I’ve been very blunt about my ex-husband’s divorce. You can actually find our divorce decree online and see that our divorce was granted on the basis of his infidelity—a fact that was never disputed. But I haven’t always been as open about some of the other pain my children and I experienced in my first marriage and the years after the divorce.

It took me several years to realize that I had experienced verbal, mental, and emotional abuse throughout my marriage…abuse that got worse the farther he walked from God. I am only now beginning to understand some of what my kids experienced in those years after the divorce.

But those are stories for my kids to tell.

I say all of this to explain what I’ve been walking through recently. I thought I was healed, untouched. I’ve read so often about people suffering from PTSD after abusive marriages, but I never felt that I had been affected.

Until a little over a month ago.

When my body completely shut down.

When my efforts to pray and read the Bible did nothing to change my heart or my mindset.

When I found myself spiraling into a deep, dark place I have never known before.

When I couldn’t even muster a smile or find a moment of joy.

When I felt as if the walls were closing in on me and there was no escape.

When I was mindlessly walking through my days just trying to make it to the bed at night.

When I was locked in anxious thoughts that wouldn’t go away no matter how hard I tried.

When nothing could penetrate the darkness surrounding me.

As I found myself in this dark, painful place—a place I didn’t know and couldn’t explain—it put stress on my new marriage. I lost my ability to see from someone else’s point of view. I lost my love and compassion for others. I found myself fighting for survival—for my survival—no matter the cost.

I became someone I do not know, someone I do not like.

Sadly, my battle brought out the PTSD in our entire home. My daughter has asked me if she could suffer from some level of PTSD. My husband confessed that he felt like he had been fighting an exacerbation of his war-induced PTSD.

We were all fighting demons we couldn’t see, we couldn’t name, we couldn’t understand…and at some point, we began fighting one another.

Yes, it’s been a bitter, excruciating place in which we have been living.

Even in the midst of the darkness, I heard the sweet voice of my Father.

“I will fight for you. You only need to be still.”

“This season is the gateway to something more beautiful than you can imagine.”

“I’m her and I’m working.”

But as much as I tried to focus on His voice, the darkness consumed me. Consumed us. Nearly destroyed us.

Nothing has changed in our situation. We still have some hard decisions to make. We are still faced with a custody battle. We are still facing Roy’s daughter’s behaviors. We are still struggling to move forward, to find our footing.

Somehow, I feel the darkness lifting and His love beginning to penetrate my heart again. I am beginning to see His hand moving around us. I’m trying to focus on loving my husband and my kids, letting them know how much I care. I’m trying to give of myself instead of being so absorbed by the pain and the fear. I am hoping to see a few rays of light shining through the darkness.

Here’s the thing: I didn’t change a thing in this season.

I kept reading my Bible. I kept praying…probably even more. I kept going to church. I kept listening to Christian radio. I kept pushing forward…one step at a time. I reached out to friends in similar situations, friends who understood what I was walking through.

It wasn’t immediate…maybe not even completely over. Slowly, step-by-step, moment-by-moment, God penetrated my heart and mind. He brought all of us—continues to bring all of us—together where we stand stronger together than we do alone.

Maybe I now I have a new depth of understanding of what so much of the trauma I have experienced over the last decade has done to me—and to my kids. Maybe I will have an even greater empathy for those walking through the pain and darkness of abuse. Maybe now God is ushering a new season of growth.

I know we have a long way to go. I know we have many difficult days ahead. I know the darkness is not completely gone. It may be a darkness I battle throughout my life.

But I know my Savior lives and loves. I know perseverance and continuing to do what He has asked of us eventually causes the darkness to give way to light. I know His way is good and perfect and transforms us from the inside out. I know His light penetrates even the darkest of nights, the deepest of depressions. I know He is still the answer to our every problem.

And I pray you continue doing the right thing until you begin to see the rays of His light penetrating the darkness surrounding you.

 

Lord Jesus, I thank you. I thank you for carrying me through some of the darkest days of my life. I thank you for showing me the depth of the pain I have experienced, for opening my eyes to a darkness I didn’t know existed within me. I thank you for loving me enough that you didn’t leave me lost and wandering in the pain and loss. We ask for your presence as we move forward, as we try to figure out how to move forward in the painful circumstances still surrounding us. Help us to put aside ourselves and seek your face, your wisdom, your direction. May these painful days draw us to you and to one another, making us into something more beautiful than we could ever imagine. Make us like you. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

Clouds of Doubt

I have this group of friends from college, an eclectic bunch pulled together over the last few years by social media. Funny thing is, some of these college friends I have never even met in person. Even so,we have spent many hours laughing and harassing one another.

This group of friends includes several former ministers, a former missionary kid, a former pastor’s wife, and several other solid Christians. We are a group with a solid faith, a group whose relationship with Christ is the foundation of our existence.

This week, instead of the laughter and joking that so often marks our relationship, the conversation took a somewhat somber tone as we each began to pour out our hearts.

One friend’s daughter is suffering from severe depression.

One is caught in the sandwich generation, struggling to raise her kids and manage her ailing parents.

One friend is suffering from depression, possibly as a result of being wrongfully removed from the ministry. He suffers immensely while his accusers continue in their positions.

One friend’s marriage is suffering as a result of wave after wave of loss.

The pain is suffocating. We struggle to get on our feet again as we seem to be battered by the waves of grief and pain and loss. We cling to our faith…even as we all express our doubts.

Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you can remember a time when your faith was so strong nothing could shake you. Maybe you remember a time when the intimacy you shared with the Father was so real, so constant. Maybe you remember the times when God pulled you through even when there was no hope.

But maybe, like my gang of friends, your faith is hanging by a thread as you watch life nearly take you out. Maybe, like us, you find yourself crying out, “Enough, God! I can’t take any more.” Maybe you find yourself struggling with all the cliché answers you always gave others. Maybe you cringe when you hear someone say, “Just keep trusting God.”

Maybe you are at a point where you need more. Something more tangible. Something more concrete. Maybe your once well-trained mind, a mind accustomed to taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, has somehow wandered from its steadfast focus on Christ. Maybe the peace that surpasses all understanding is a distant memory.

If you are suffering doubts about your faith, be encouraged. You are not alone! Many strong Christians, myself included, often suffer from doubts.

Today, I was reading about Peter. Peter who was one of the first disciples of Christ. Peter who is the rock upon which Christ chose to build His church. Peter who was zealous for Christ. Peter who was an outspoken believer.

Peter who abandoned Christ in His greatest hour of need.

Meanwhile, Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant girl came over and said to him, “You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean.” But Peter denied it in front of everyone. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. Later, out by the gate, another servant girl noticed him and said to those standing around, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Again Peter denied it, this time with an oath. “I don’t even know the man,” he said. A little later some of the other bystanders came over to Peter and said, “You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent.” Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know the man!” And immediately the rooster crowed. Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly. Matthew 26:69-75

Yes, even the disciples who walked this earth with Jesus suffered doubts. But the beauty is that those doubts didn’t derail Peter; instead, as he worked through his failures and doubts, his faith actually grew stronger.

And that’s what I want for me and my group of friends…and for you. But the question quickly becomes, “How do we get there?”

As I look back at those times where I was closest to Christ, I see several commonalities:

Saturation with the Word of God. Several years ago, I picked up my Bible and read in every spare moment…and I had WAY more spare moments than I do now. When I was in my car, I was listening to books on tape and praying. When I was training for the half marathon, I was listening to sermons. Every moment I could, I was saturating my mind with the truth.

Unfortunately, work is much more demanding these days. I’m not in my car as much as I used to be. I can’t run half marathons any more. And all of those little changes add up to a lower input of God’s Word. I’m working to find ways to increase my intake. I’m working to make my car my prayer closet again. I’m working to train my mind again.

I long to have the same hunger and thirst for God’s Word that I did several years ago. I know the only way I can be transformed into His image is by the renewing of my mind, by filling every secret recess with His word.

Surrounded by like-minded friendships. One of the greatest treasures I have from my days at Oklahoma Baptist University is this beautiful trove of Godly friends. My days at OBU were days marked by growth in walk with Christ, a growth I attribute directly to being surrounded by people who love God, people who always encouraged me to walk more closely with Him.

I still have those friendships. I still have this funky bunch of friends who allow me to share my doubts and fears and to be completely open and vulnerable with them. I still have these friends who not only talk the talk but also walk the walk. Where would I be without them?

But I also long for a group right here, people I can regularly connect with in person instead of just virtually. I know as iron sharpens iron, so man sharpens man. I know I need the contact with others who love God fully and completely.

Stepping out in obedience. One of the hardest parts of the Christian life is to walk by faith and not by sight. We all know what we can see, but moving forward with what we can’t see? It’s hard. It’s hard to obey that voice whispering quietly into our lives. It’s hard to move when we can’t see what’s ahead of us. It’s hard to take that first step of obedience.

But after that first step? In my experience, the minute we begin to move in obedience, God steps in and carries us. He just needs to see that we are willing to move forward, our hearts are in alignment with Him. Then, it’s all on Him.

And as we do these things, we find our doubts actually begin to strengthen our faith. We begin to feel the presence of our Father. We hear those tender mercies reminding us of His presence, His goodness.

Yes, my friends and I are in difficult seasons in this life…seasons of such pain we find ourselves doubting our faith, the very foundation of our lives. Yet, I hear my Father whisper, “This is the beginning of something so much bigger than anything you can imagine. This is the beginning of something beautiful.”

I choose to believe.

 

 

 

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