Thursday, March 24, 2016

When Life Gives You Migraines

I. Hate. Migraines. Period.

Can anyone else relate? Do you struggle with a recurring physical issue that causes pain and allows you to think of nothing else in the midst of its attacks? I have battled migraines since I was in college, and it seems like everything instigates them! Sinus problems. Female issues. Certain foods and smells. Stress. Everything! As soon as I feel the nausea in my stomach, tenseness in my neck, and blurry vision, I know that a migraine is coming. It’s a depressing feeling knowing that a migraine will plague me for the rest of the day. Not fun!

Last Thursday, I had a migraine as soon as I woke up. As I was heading to work, I prayed that the Lord would take it away and allow me to finish out my workday strong, even with the terrible pounding in my head and nausea in my stomach. Throughout the day, my head went from bad to much worse. I teach first grade, and while I absolutely LOVE my kids, they can be a little loud and high maintenance at times! When I have a headache, I just want a quiet, dark, and cool room. As you can imagine, that is not possible while teaching six and seven year olds! They can usually tell when I have a migraine, and some of them really try to be sensitive to that. I can hear them shushing their friends to try to help me.

While we were doing Math, one sweet girl said, “Mrs. Cochran, do you have a headache?” I said, “Yes, I do, but it’s ok.” The student responded with, “Well, I’m gonna pray for you before bed tonight!” What a sweetheart!

After lunch, I had the same conversation with a different sweet girl. Although my headache had not gone away, I was so blessed that two of my girls knew that prayer was the answer, and they were kind enough to tell me that they would pray. About an hour later, the second girl approached my desk, and said, “Mrs. Cochran, can I just pray for you right now?” Of course, I said she could. She proceeded to pray aloud for me right then at my desk, that God would heal my headache so that I could feel better. I was brought to tears!

Later that evening at home, my head was still pounding. I asked Riley Grace for a hug when I got home. She said, “OK! And a little baby kiss, too?” I took the kiss, and cried. Patrick took care of Riley Grace, while I laid on the couch with a cool rag, attempting to rest. This was the third reminder for me that day that God loves me and could use even little children to show me that He cares for me and hears me. While my headache did not go away until the next morning, I went to bed that night with a heart that was overwhelmed and overflowing with thankfulness. In the midst of pain, God brought sweet and tender reminders of his love, faithfulness, care, and goodness. 2 prayers and a little baby kiss reminded me of that!

(Side Note: The children around you, whether your own children or those you have the opportunity to pour into, are watching and learning from you! My two sweet students would not have thought to pray for me if they had not been taught to do so. Train your children up in the way of the Lord! Show them a godly response in the midst of a trial. Show love to others in front of them so that they can see your compassion. Turn to prayer as a first resort so that they can see dedication to prayer lived out in your life. Praise God in the midst of difficulties so that they can learn that difficulties are not to blamed on God, but rather we are to turn to Him in the midst of those trials. I’m so thankful for my students, and I emailed 2 proud parents later on that night reporting their sweet girls’ prayerfulness for me. J )


-       REMEMBER: Take time to remember instances where God heard you, cared for you, was tender with you, and sent someone or something your way to remind you of His faithfulness even in the midst of your physical, emotional, or spiritual pain or unrest. Even though the painful times are not fun, we can see God at work in those times if we look for Him! Your painful experience may be an aggravating and painful illness or it may be a devastating loss of a loved one, but whatever the magnitude of the situation, God is faithful to you and He loves you. In His wisdom, He has allowed the trial to come, but He will love you and guide you through it, and send you sweet reminders of His faithfulness along the way!

-       PRAISE: Praise the Lord for how He cares for you. Take time to thank Him for the times that you have seen and felt Him even in the midst of difficult circumstances. Thank Him for being a personal God who cares about the needs of every one of His people, including you!

-       READ: Isaiah 26:3-4 “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because He trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.” As this verse explains, in order to have a mind that is at peace in the midst of trials and pain, we must keep our minds on Him. We must trust in His sovereignty. I would LOVE to have a mind that is in perfect peace instead of one filled with doubt, stress, anxiety, and depression! How can I do that? By keeping my mind on the Lord! Saturate your mind with the Word. Surround yourself with godly things music, people, books, etc. Focus on Him rather than the circumstances. Remind yourself of His faithfulness through the stories found in Scripture. Look UP!

-       PRAY: Pray that the Lord will give you eyes to see the “big picture,” and that even while you are walking through a valley, you will be able to praise Him and bring Him glory through your response. Pray that your mind will stay on Him and your heart will trust Him even when things don’t make sense. Ask Him to help you notice the small, sweet reminders of His love. Also, pray that He will use you to reach out to others. You may never know what a simple prayer, kind word, or short Bible verse will do for someone who is in pain. I’m sure my girls didn’t know how much their prayers would mean, but they prayed for me anyway!

My prayer is that you may be able to visibly see, audibly hear, and tangibly feel the Lord’s hand in the midst of the trials and struggles you may be facing, as well as in the joyous and prosperous times. May we look for His handiwork. May we allow the Lord to use us to bring healing and blessing to those around us who are hurting. And may we give Him glory for being such a sovereign, powerful, and great God, while also being immensely loving and personal!

Always, Jacquelyn

Sunday, March 6, 2016

When My Church Attendance is Dangerously Offensive

“God is offended by religious ritual, however impressive, if it conceals an empty heart and a careless life  God opposes all manifestations of human pride. (Taken from the ESV Study Bible Online “Introduction to Isaiah”)

What are you first thoughts after reading that statement? At first, I’m having flashbacks to sitting in the pew in “big church” in the mid-90s and checking off all of the boxes on the offering envelope. Read Bible daily. Check. Prayed daily. Check. Tithed. Check. Attended Sunday School. Check. Check. Check! Did anyone else have those envelopes?? But in all honesty, the above statement about religious ritual feels like a slap in the face to me. “Empty heart and careless life?” I do not want my life to be characterized by these descriptions. This statement comes from the ESV Study Bible’s introduction to the Old Testament book of Isaiah. In keeping up with the EASTER CHALLENGE of memorizing Isaiah 52:13 53:12 (about the suffering and sacrifice of Christ according to the will of God), I wanted to study more about the themes of the prophetic book of Isaiah. In doing so, I came across a list of the themes of the book of Isaiah, with the statements above being #1 and #3 on the “Theme” list. While reading this list, I landed myself into a whole lot of conviction! Religious ritual?! Certainly my religious pursuits are not ritualistic?! The list printed on my childhood offering envelope is certainly not a bad list, but when those items become religious ritual, they are not pleasing to God. In fact, Scripture explains that religious ritual is offensive to God!

Consider these passages from Isaiah (They’re lengthy, but powerful!). The bold and underlined statements describe ways in which the Israelites acted that the Lord was NOT pleased with, and the italicized statements are promises that the Lord makes to His people when their hearts are turned toward Him in humble obedience.

Isaiah 1:10-17 Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations - I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.”

Isaiah 58 Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God. Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?  “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.  Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness; If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.”

Isaiah 66 Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. “He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog's neck; he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig's blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol.  These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations; I also will choose harsh treatment for them and bring their fears upon them, because when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight.”

Basically, within this theme of “religious ritual” in Isaiah, he makes some very strong points:
1.      God is not pleased with godly activities that become ritualistic.
2.    Not only is God not pleased with them, He’s offended by them! These passages from Isaiah prove His disgust with the harsh words that He offers. (These passages remind me of how Jesus spoke of the religious leaders of his day as whitewashed tombs Yikes!)
3.    Because ritualistic behavior is offensive to Him, he won’t listen to those pleas and He will hide His eyes from them. (On the contrary, “he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word “are the ones to whom He will look! As always, THE LORD OFFERS MERCY! Isaiah 66).
4.    God is concerned about the heart behind all religious things we do.
5.    God knows the heart behind everything we do. We may be able to fool others and even convince ourselves that our devotion is genuine, but he knows our heart’s intent as we perform religious duties.
6.    God wants to wash us and make us clean so that we can be pleasing to Him.
7.    We have an active part in the cleansing. (He commanded the Israelites to “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.”(Isaiah 1) Although we are only cleansed through Christ, we have an active part in the pursuit to be clean before the Lord. As always, THE LORD PROVIDES THE WAY OF OBEDIENCE! He doesn’t just tell us that we should please Him; He tells us how. We aren’t left in the dark about what He desires for His children.
8.    The Lord promises to guide and satisfy the desires of those who offer pure worship, sacrifice, and obedience. He wants us to seek the things in which He delights. They are the ones who will receive refreshment from him, “like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail”(Isaiah 58).

-       READ: Take a look at the New Testament in Matthew 23. Jesus is pretty harsh toward the religious leaders of the day in the same way that Isaiah spoke to the Israelites of his day. The Lord is serious about religious devotion NOT becoming a mere ritual or show.
-       STUDY: Study the theme of religious ritual throughout the Bible. Start with Isaiah.
-       EVALUATE: Evaluate the ways in which you pursue the Lord. Evaluate your prayer life, commitment to Scripture, offering of tithes, worship through music, and involvement with the local church. What is your heart behind your involvement with religious tasks? These tasks are of course NOT bad in themselves, but our heart while doing these things can become hardened through ritualistic behavior rather than freshly seeking the Lord through these things.
-       PRAY: Ask the Lord to show you ways that your pursuit of Him may have become ritualistic. Ask Him to give you a fresh desire to please Him, obey Him, and make sacrifices in order to become more like Him. As the Lord to guard your heart and mind against complacency, apathy, or ritualistic behavior. (For further study on "Spring Cleaning" of your spiritual life, view "Spring Cleaning Assistant for Hire."

I pray that as you head to church tomorrow morning, open your Bible, worship Him through giving and songs, and plead with Him in prayer, your heart will be refreshed, renewed, humbled, encouraged, convicted, and spurred on to further true devotion to Him the kind of sacrificial devotion that pleases Him and sanctifies you!

Always, Jacquelyn