The Sovereignty of God: Deliverance in the Midst of Our Trials

Have you ever heard someone say “God is sovereign?” If you have heard it, have you stopped to truly think about what that means and allowed it to change your life? 
When we understand the sovereignty of God, we are able to fully rest in Him. But first I think we have to understand what the word “sovereign” truly means. Let’s study together today.

 

God’s Sovereignty in the Book of Daniel

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word sovereign as “a characteristic of a supreme ruler. Possessing supreme or ultimate power. Supreme authority.”  
The Lord has supreme power and authority. Nothing happens without His knowledge or control.  All things are either caused by Him or allowed by Him for His own purposes and through His perfect will and timing.  
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:36
The book of Daniel is a great place to begin studying and understanding the sovereignty of God. I’ve studied the whole book two different times and can honestly say I’ve seen and heard different things on each occasion. Both times allowed me to see God as completely sovereign, which helps me to rest in Him and His plan for my life. 
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.  And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god.” Daniel 1:1-2
I have “God is Sovereign” written next to verse two in my Bible. When I began studying this book – looking at it verse by verse, I noticed something BIG in verse two. Do you see it? It doesn’t say God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to capture Jerusalem.  It doesn’t say God wasn’t there when Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem. It says, “The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand.” He GAVE them! God delivered His chosen people right into the hands of king Nebuchadnezzar.

 

What Does the Word Say?

When I study the Bible, I like to ask a few questions of the text and see how many answers I can find. The questions I ask are simple: Who? What? When? Where? Why? Let’s look at Daniel 1:1-2 in light of these questions, and see what answers we can find.
Who? God. What did He do?  He gave Jehoiakim King of Judah into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand. Where? The kingdom and people of Judah into the hands of Babylon. Why? While we can’t find this in this particular scripture, we do have documentation of the prophets warning Israel that this would happen if they did not obey in 2 Chronicles 7:19. When? It doesn’t say it in these verses, but Biblical timelines tell us this happened in 605 BC.
The fact that God delivered Israel into the hands of their enemy may not make sense to you and me. But it doesn’t have to. Because our God is sovereign.  He’s going to do what He says He will do for His glory. These are His people. He loves them. He warned them and now He’s following through. Much like a parent who loves their child warns them to not do something that might cause harm, then follows through with the discipline.  
Daniel is a servant of God and yet he is still captured along with his people. While in captivity, we see him continue to stand firm in his convictions and love for the Lord. 
Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah.” Daniel 1:6
Here we find out there were three other men standing strong in captivity with Daniel. The commanders in Babylon changed their names to Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego.
As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” Daniel 1:17
God gave them knowledge and wisdom. God loved these young men.  Could God have rescued them directly from King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians? Yes. I believe He could have. But He didn’t. Why? Because God is sovereign. His ways are not always our ways. He does not always rescue.  
God had a plan for Daniel’s life. It wasn’t an easy one. He had to leave his home and live as a captive in a foreign land. God’s plan doesn’t look like our plan, yet He is still sovereign today and working towards a predestined end and return of our Savior.

 

Trial By Fire

In the third chapter of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar builds a statue of gold. If you read more of the scripture, you’ll see that the king is a really arrogant man.  He’s very full of himself and now he’s built this great idol in his own image. Naturally, he calls everyone to come for the dedication of this idol.  
And the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.” Daniel 3:4-6
Let’s ask the WHAT question again as it refers to this scripture. What was required of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah? Whenever they heard the sound of the instruments they were to bow down and WHAT does it say?  Worship the golden image. And if they didn’t? Be thrown into the fire. 
Not only were these men of God taken into captivity by Babylon, but they were asked to defy their own beliefs and worship another god!
Well, these three men stood firm. They did not bow. And Nebuchadnezzar gives them a second chance. He says “I’ll blow the horns again and if you don’t bow, you’ll be thrown into the furnace,” then challenges them further by asking, “What god can deliver you out of my hands?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.’” Daniel 3:16-18
Our God is able and He will deliver us.  They fully believe God can and will deliver them from the fire.
Oh, how I love verse 18.  “But even if He does not” ……Oh friends.  This right here is the root of so much of our life.  What are you asking the Lord for right now? What trial do you see coming that you’re asking Him to deliver you from? What is it in your life that you fully believe the Lord is capable to remove from you? There are times that He does. But He is sovereign and does not see things the way we do.  And so sometimes we have to say “But even if He does not,” I will still stand firm. I will rest in His sovereignty. I will still be faithful.
Well, this angers Nebuchadnezzar and he demands the punishing fire be seven times hotter than normal – So hot that it kills the guards who even come close to it.  And what do verses 25 -26 tell us happened next?  
He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” Daniel 3:25-26
Only three men were thrown into the fire but they see four. Who was the fourth? It was the very God who delivered them through the fire! 
These next words are not my own but I want to quote Beth Moore and then I’ll explain.  She says, “The Lord can deliver us FROM the fire. He can deliver us THROUGH the fire. And He can deliver us BY the fire.”
The “fire” here is any trial you might be facing.  Have you had times in your life when you’re so worried and praying about something that you think is going to happen and then it doesn’t end up happening at all?  That is the Lord delivering you FROM the fire. You didn’t even have to experience that fiery trial.  
And sometimes we have to walk all the way THROUGH that fire or trial.  Sometimes it’s hard and messy and there are tears and heartache but the Lord is with us through the whole thing and He delivers us to the other side.
And sometimes He delivers us BY the fire straight into the arms of Jesus.  Sometimes He doesn’t save us here from that illness or tragedy and He takes us home, but we are still delivered from the fire.
How I pray each of us would be able to stand as strong in whatever trials or fires come our way. When we’re in the midst of them, can we cling to the Lord’s sovereignty and not our own plans?

 

Perseverance, Encouragement, Hope

As I wrap this up, I want to look at one more verse with you. In Romans 15:4, Paul tells us that  “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” I pray that when you study the life of Daniel, you will find hope in the Sovereignty of our Lord. 
I don’t know if the Lord is leading you into trials, delivering you right into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, or if He’s allowing things to happen. But what I do know is we can rest in His sovereignty. Rest in the fact that He has supreme authority. Like Daniel and his fellow captives, we can stand firm in our convictions. We know, ultimately, that He will rescue us safely to His kingdom. To Him be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.

 

 

Lee Anne HeadshotAbout the Author: Lee Ann DeRoos is a simple girl who loves jeans, sweatshirts, decaf coffee and dark chocolate. She is a servant, learner, worshiper, gluten-free baker, hobby farmer, and Arise Ministries Collective Board Member.
Lee Ann is a wife, mom of two, and daughter of the King – Always striving to get out from under her bushel to let His light shine.

The Sovereign God Who Writes Our Story

There are always “what ifs” that cross our minds throughout our lives. What if we would have made a different decision here or there? What if we would have been born in a different family or country? What if we would have gone to college or not? What if we would have gotten that job? What if we hadn’t moved?

The God Who is Sovereign

It’s important for us to know the attributes of God so that we may intimately know WHO God is. When our feelings, the hardships, and loss in life come and don’t seem to align with who we think He is, the TRUTH of WHO scripture says God is will always bring us back to a place of peace and rest in our all-knowing and sovereign Creator.

Understanding and knowing the sovereignty of God is one of the most foundational truths. All other doctrines of our Christian faith must be brought into alignment with God’s sovereignty. God’s sovereignty means He is the one, and only one, who has supreme power and authority over all things. He is the one true God of infinite rule.

In the very beginning of time God spoke and therefore it was. He spoke the world and all that is in the world into existence.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1:1-5)

In the beginning, God created and because He created and has always been, this establishes His supreme authority over everything. God is the “sovereign Lord of all by an incontestable right” as our Creator. God must be sovereign to be truly God. We wouldn’t want a God who wasn’t.

The God Who Acts

That’s the difference between the creation and the Creator. God’s sovereignty means that there are no limits on His authority to act. He is in control of all things and His perfect plans are being exacted. We see this all over scripture, for example, when we look at how God used Pharaoh to further His Kingdom work.

Romans 9:17 says,

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 

He didn’t raise up Pharaoh to just be mean to the Israelites. He had a grand plan – a sovereign plan for how He would provide a Savior and how His name might be proclaimed in all the earth.

Let’s not forget how God worked in Joseph’s life. Joseph was the youngest son of many. He was favored by His father and despised by his brothers. He was sold into slavery at a young age as a result of his brothers’ hatred. He was then a slave in Potiphar’s house, but in this circumstance, he was put in a position that would eventually help in reuniting him with his family and give him the ability to help them.

I’m sure that during this process Joseph questioned how God could possibly use any of this for good.

How could God’s ultimate plan unfold in the midst of this betrayal and pain?

But there is a far grander picture here of God’s work through Joseph’s life. Something that was sovereignly ordained before the beginning of time. God is not just saving the Egyptians and Joseph’s family from starvation and ultimately physical death, He is keeping a covenant promise to Abraham through Joseph’s life story.  Joseph’s life seems to be full of unfortunate events, but ultimately God reveals his plan to provide an inheritance – One that leads to salvation.

He remembers his covenant forever,
the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations,
the covenant that he made with Abraham,
his sworn promise to Isaac,
which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute,
to Israel as an everlasting covenant,
saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan
as your portion for an inheritance.”
When they were few in number,
of little account, and sojourners in it,
wandering from nation to nation,
from one kingdom to another people,
he allowed no one to oppress them;
he rebuked kings on their account,
saying, “Touch not my anointed ones,
do my prophets no harm!”
When he summoned a famine on the land
and broke all supply of bread,
he had sent a man ahead of them,
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
His feet were hurt with fetters;
his neck was put in a collar of iron;
until what he had said came to pass,
the word of the LORD tested him.
The king sent and released him;
the ruler of the peoples set him free;
he made him lord of his house
and ruler of all his possessions,
to bind his princes at his pleasure
and to teach his elders wisdom.

Psalm 105:8-22

The God Who Sustains

Through this process, even the unthinkable things Joseph went through, God was keeping the covenant and was sustaining the line of Seth regarding the ‘seed of the woman’ who will triumph over Satan. God was fully executing His sovereign plan to provide a rescuer and a way for salvation as Jesus would come through this lineage.

Even when faced with adversity, Joseph tells his brothers “You meant this for evil, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).  Joseph truly had an eternal perspective with his life circumstances. His faith was commended by the writer of Hebrews.

 “By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave direction concerning his bones.”  Hebrews 11:22

Wendy Alsup explains it this way in her book The Gospel-Centered Woman: Understanding Biblical Womanhood through the Lens of the Gospel:

…when the author of Hebrews references Jospeh in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11, it is Joseph’s conviction that God was doing something that transcended Joseph’s lifetime for which he is commended. Joseph had such confidence that God’s purposes for His children transcended their current struggles and that they were all a part of something eternal that he gave direction concerning his bones.

The God Who Saves

Joseph had a God-given faith and believed that God would make good out of his life story, and God, in His sovereignty, ultimately fulfills the Abrahamic covenant and provides a rescuer, Jesus, to make a way for salvation.

These are all wonderful and great stories, and we can see the bigger picture now because we have the Bible. We can see God’s promise of a Savior provided through Abraham’s lineage fulfilled.

But what about now, when things happen in our very own lives? Things that cause us to question and doubt God’s goodness and sovereignty? What about when we desire to have a spouse, a baby, a healthy child, a living parent, a forever friend, a body free of cancer, that job we’ve been wanting, and they never come when planned? Or they never ever come at all?

And in an even broader sense, not just in our personal lives but in huge current day events?  Throughout history, there have been things we do not fully understand, but we can rest in the fact that God is sovereign over it all whether we see His plan play out or not in our lifetime. Things like abortion, the Holocaust, politicians being elected to office, and the rise and fall of empires. God’s word attests to this in Proverbs 21:1:

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.

We so badly want to be in control of our lives, and we want it to contribute to our life story in some specific and positive way, when in fact God is the sovereign one who is in control of all things and is executing His sovereign plan to further His kingdom for eternity.

Psalm 18:30 says:

This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.

His ways ARE perfect, even when they don’t feel perfect to us.

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

Romans 9:14-21

God has a way of reestablishing His authority in our lives through life circumstances as sovereign Creator and King. When we come to the end of ourselves and to the end of our plans and realize that we are eternal beings made for His glory alone and are not the ones in ultimate control, we can rest in the Lord’s sovereignty over our lives and even over our sin.

The God Who Redeems

He has lavished us with grace and granted us redemption as a part of His perfect plan to unite all things to Himself for our goodness and His ultimate glory.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:7-14

May we be women of the Word, living from a place of confidence in who we know God is instead of what or how we feel things should be.  May we learn to stretch and grow into the story He has written for our lives even when they don’t line up with the story we wrote for ourselves.  May God continue to grow our faith through each decade as we know He works all things for our good and for His glory alone.

Personal Reflection

How should the knowledge that God is sovereign change the way that you live?

In what area do you feel the most out of control?

How does the truth of God’s sovereignty comfort you personally?

How does it shape your understanding of the miracle of salvation?

How can you share that comfort with others?

About the Author: Janell Sorensen is a follower of Jesus, a wife to her best friend David, and a mother to five gifts. She has a heart for women, women’s ministry, and the study of God’s Word. You can find her most days sitting at her farm table schooling her kids, telling punny jokes, and resting in the beauty and grace of her race because of Jesus. She occasionally writes at janellsorensen.wordpress.com.

Printable Advent Study – “He Will” Part 2

    

Moving into Part 2- HE WILL Advent Study

We hope you have enjoyed Part 1 of the HE WILL Advent study guide weeks 1 & 2. If you’re just joining us, please visit the introduction post to HE WILL part 1, where you will find some information about this study as well as the free printable study guide for part 1. If you’re looking for the free printable download for HE WILL part 2, read on! The link to download is at the end of this post.

We cannot begin to tell you how excited & humbled we are that so many of you have downloaded, printed, and studied along with us. We pray that as you faithfully studied the text of Luke 1 & 2, you have discovered some things you never saw before and grown in your knowledge of our faithful God. We are so proud of you, for opening your Bible and using your beautiful brain to love God with your mind. We know it wasn’t always easy, but it’s a worthy effort!

Looking Ahead

In weeks 3 & 4 we will study Luke 1:57- 2:40. In these verses, we will see God faithfully fulfilling his promises, the birth of Christ, and so much more. We can not wait to dig in with you! Every bit of God’s word is important, but we are so excited to dive into the Christmas story with you. This is the moment when God’s Son arrives in the flesh to bring light & life for ALL PEOPLE.

We know the next few weeks are typically jam packed with school concerts, holiday parties, work deadlines, or selecting gifts for your friends and loved ones. We urge you press on, keep making time for soaking in the story of Christ’s birth. We absolutely know that it won’t be easy. We are right there with you, trying to find the time for all the things filling our calendars.

We fully believe that you will experience Christmas with a different perspective after looking in depth at what God has done in Luke 1 & 2. You will have fresh appreciation for those Christmas carols we sing along to, proclaiming God’s faithfulness to a weary world in need of a Savior. You will see those holiday traditions in new way, with the background of the Christmas story fresh on your mind and new understanding of the meaning of it all.

 

 

The Bible is for Everyone

Because we can’t say it enough… at Arise, believe that the Bible is for everyone. You don’t need to be a certified bible scholar to start studying your Bible!  It is our hearts desire that this study guide would be a useful tool for you as you discover the Bible for yourself.  We hope you will learn some new things and pray at the end you will feel equipped & empowered to continue on in your own Bible study! 

In this study guide you’ll find tips for getting the most out of your study time, and using that beautiful brain of yours to know God through His story.

 

Join us
December 15 starts week 3 of this study plan. We sincerely hope you’ll join us again, as we focus in on the themes Luke has for us, as we prepare for celebrating Christ’s birth. As always, we are SO glad you’re here with us. 
 
With great love and affection for our sisters in Christ, 
Eryn Kesler & Mary Straker

Download the free He Will Advent Study on our resource page or click the image below for a direct download.

Podcast 022 – “He Will” Advent Study – Week One with Eryn Kesler & Mary Straker

Join co-authors Eryn Kesler and Mary Straker for a conversation about the first week of our He Will advent study. You’ll hear the inside scoop about why these women are passionate about the Word of God, gain some insight into the book of Luke, and even get their own answers for a few of this week’s tough questions.

It’s not too late to start! Access and download your own copy of He Will – Part One by clicking here.

About our guests and co-authors:

Eryn Kesler has been married to Matt for 20 years – the best thing that’s ever happened to her. She’s mom to 5 amazing kids, a recovering over-scheduler, and a wedding & portrait photographer in Brush Prairie, Washington.

Mary Straker is wife to her loving husband, Derek, and a stay-at-home mama to three sweet and busy little girls. She has been changed by the study of Scripture, and longs for other women to abide with God through the treasure of His Word. Mary lives in Ridgefield, Washington. 

 

Printable Advent Bible Study – “He Will” Part 1

Preparing for Christmas

It’s the time of year when we begin to prepare for Christmas. Of course, there’s the parties, gifts to shop for, stockings to stuff, special meals to plan and prepare. Sometimes, in the busyness of it all we ask ourselves, “why am I doing all this?” Many of us long to soak in the real reason we celebrate this season. We want to prepare our hearts to honor God’s gift to us, the birth of our Savior, Jesus.

In His Mercy-God Makes a Way

We hope you’ll join us as we look at the Gospel according to Luke. Luke tells of the events leading up to Jesus birth and the arrival of the long awaited Messiah. In this month leading up to Christmas, we want to look at how God, in His mercy, made a way for us to have a relationship with Him. You will read about the promises, learn about God’s character, and see how Christ’s coming fulfilled God’s plan.

About the Study

He Will is a 2 part study guide, to lead you through Luke 1 and 2.
We hope you will uncover for yourself the nature and love of God revealed in scripture.In His great love and mercy,He has given the gift of salvation, not
just to us, but the whole world (1 Jn 2:2) as He promised.

The Bible is for Everyone

We believe that the Bible is for everyone. You don’t need to be a bible scholar to start growing!  It is our hearts desire that this little study guide would be a useful tool for you. We hope you will learn some new things and practice studying the bible for yourself.

In this study guide you’ll find tips for getting the most out of your study time, and using that beautiful brain of yours to know God through His story.
Join us
December 1 kicks off this 4 week study plan. We sincerely hope you’ll join us as we prepare our hearts to celebrate what amazing things the Lord has done. Stay tuned for part 2 coming in a couple weeks!
 
With great love and affection for our sisters in Christ, 
Eryn Kesler & Mary Straker

Download the free He Will Advent Study on our resource page or click the image below for a direct download.

 

Podcast 021 – “You’re Already a Theologian: Be a Good One” with Brenna Blain

Do you consider yourself a theologian? Why or why not? What is theology and do we as women really need it? Does what we believe matter, and why do we believe what we do about God? How do our beliefs shape who we are and, more importantly, who God is?

All of these are questions Lisa DaSilva and Brenna Blain discuss and wrestle through in today’s episode of the Arise Ministries Collective Podcast.

We hope you’ll join in the conversation, search the Word yourself, look through our recommended resources, and begin the journey toward scripture-informed theology. If we have thoughts and opinions about God, we’re already theologians. Our desire is that each one of us does the hard work to become good ones.

Scripture We Referenced
  • Acts 17 – Read all of it to better understand the context, but pay particular attention to 17:11 – “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”  
  • Psalm 111:2 – “Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.”
  • 1 Peter 3:15 – But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
Our Recommended Resources

Find more great resources about theology and doctrine by linking to our Recommended Resources page here.

Quotes

“In one sense, all it takes to be a theologian is to have an opinion about God. That’s it. The moment you think or say anything about him or her or it or whatever GOD is to you, you’re doing theology. The real question, therefore, is not whether you are a theologian. It’s whether you are a good one.” Matt Smethurst (managing director of “The Gospel Coalition”). 

About Our Guest: Hey, I’m Brenna Blain. I am a 24 year old wife, mother and theology student at Multnomah University. For work I speak at different churches, ministries and youth events with a focus on re-engaging lukewarm Christians to pursue a deeper relationship with Christ. Aside from speaking, I also host a podcast that focuses on asking hard questions that are not normally asked within the church. For the past 10 years I’ve struggled with mental illness and what it means to be a follower of Christ while having a broken mind. Within my walk, I’ve found theology to be an overwhelmingly beautiful practice that not only strengthens my relationship with God but also welcomes difficult questions and topics. My hope within doing ministry with Jesus is that no individual feels outside of His reach, no matter what they struggle with.

The Traps and Treasures of Thankfulness

The words and verses are superimposed over photos of flowers and cornucopias, then plastered onto mugs and magnets: Give Thanks! They’re carefully calligraphed across reclaimed-wood wall plaques: Be Thankful! More than that, they’re repeated over and over in our Bibles. 

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1Thessalonians 5:16-18 

As Christians, we’re well aware of the commands for thankfulness, and we can’t finagle the translation of any Greek words to get out of it – Although I sure wish I could some days. 

For me, the idea of thankfulness comes with baggage. It can feel invalidating, fake, or saccharine sweet when contrasted with the often painful and bitter reality of my daily life. 

Do you ever feel that way, too? 

Sometimes I think this might be because I’m understanding thankfulness wrong. Let’s look at a couple misconceptions about thanksgiving that many of us get trapped in, and then we’ll dive into the heart of Biblical thanks.

Thankfulness Does Not Mean Ignoring Pain

This is big. It only takes reading a few Psalms (Psalm 12, 86, 94) to see that even our loudest songs of praise can also be filled with heart-wrenching cries of lament and sorrow. This is important to say because cheerful church cultures can unknowingly wield thankfulness like a weapon, silencing our suffering to avoid the discomfort of grief or doubt. 

“How are you?” they ask. “Too blessed to be stressed! God is good!” we respond with a weak laugh, choking our pain down a bit deeper – A dull weight sinking heavy in our bellies where we hope no one will discover the real us, yet desperately hoping they might try. 

As we enter our prayers with God we might do the same – Offering up a bright but hollow Christianese version of ourselves, hoping we might appease Him, unsure if He wants to know the real us (hint: He does!). 

In the mental health world this is known as Spiritual Bypassing, which means using spiritual words, ideas, or practices to try to skip right past the hard and holy work of facing traumas, woundedness, or even just reality itself.  

Spiritual Bypassing is a hollow positivity, and it isn’t true thankfulness. It eventually leaves us lonely, ashamed, and disconnected from God, others, and ourselves. Like the spiritual equivalent of an Instagram filter, we avoid authenticity and connection. This kind of grasping does not equal gratitude. Rather, as you plum the sorrows of your soul and the drama of your days, come to God with all of it. 

Thanks-giving is holistic, so thank God for what you are thankful for and cry with Him about the areas that hurt. Bring your whole self and your whole story to the table. God formed you in all of your strength and fragility, and He loves each and every aching bit of you.

Thankfulness is Not Comparison

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector…’” Luke 18:10

As usual, the hyper-religious Pharisee in the parable above gets a few things wrong. And sadly, as usual, he reminds me a lot of myself. The Pharisee is looking at things, at other people, and at himself instead of looking toward God. Basically, he’s comparing. 

We might think we’d never fall into this same self-sufficient trap, but how about this: “Eat your dinner and be grateful! There are starving kids who’d love to have what you have!” Raise your hand if you’ve heard (or said) this phrase. I know I have. 

But is it thankfulness we are fostering, or comparison? Is it thankfulness we are fostering or smug superiority wrapped up in a spiritual bow? Does it make us thankful for what we have, or thankful that we’re not like those poor starving children

Like Spiritual Bypassing, this kind of thankfulness is hollow, focusing more on things than on the Giver of All Good Things (James 1:17). This can sometimes be subtle or seem benign, but when we look at someone else’s plate, we’re always at risk of falling into the comparison trap and puffing up our own ego instead of truly thanking God. In the parable, Jesus goes on to describe another person who came to the temple that day. This one, the tax collector, prayed differently, crying “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Jesus goes on to applaud this man because of his humility. 

Humility is, without question, the rich soil of thanksgiving. 

If Biblical thankfulness isn’t Spiritual Bypassing or comparison, what is it? And how do we live it out? Let’s look now at the heart of thankfulness.

Thankfulness is Relational and Responsive

God doesn’t need our compliments, so when He tells us to be thankful, it isn’t to stroke His own heavenly ego or to tack on to our spiritual agenda. What God wants, what He always-and-forever wants, is a continuously connected, intimately loving and redeeming relationship with us (Ephesians 2:4-7). 

Thankfulness is part of a reciprocal relationship as we revel in and respond to His movement in our hearts and in the world around us. Just as we become closer to our friends, spouse, or children when we actively look for and call out the things of beauty in them, we will find more intimacy with God when we move away from a to-do list and move into awe and wonder at the God of love, creator of sunsets and the Milky Way. 

Although gratitude for gratitude’s sake is a healthy discipline for all, God is calling us to something much bigger and deeper. He’s calling us into relationship with Himself, giving both roots and fruit to our faith.

“Tune my heart to sing Thy grace” is how the hymn-writer puts it. Thankfulness is the grace-singing response to our attunement with God. It baptizes the mundane and bursts up from worldly waters dripping with a heavenly hymn.

So what does that look like in the often bleak and busy reality of our daily lives? For me, It  means that as I go throughout my day, I simply (though not always easily) look for the holy of God. Sometimes this comes naturally and other times it’s more like what Hebrews 13:5 calls a “sacrifice of praise.”

When I’m with friends, I belly laugh and marvel at the God who created humor and joy. 

His image is carved into each and every person we encounter. 

Isn’t He beautiful? 

Thank you, God. 

On cold, rainy nights when I’m waiting and waiting at a bus stop, wishing I was at home, wishing I wasn’t in pain, wishing desperately that life had worked out differently, I cry to God and thank Him for His presence. 

I thank Him for seeing me and for being a God who knows about suffering and aloneness. I may or may not thank God for my chronic pain and the ways He has redeemed it in my life. I’m not always thankful for that. But I can almost always be thankful for the way He meets me in the crushing middle of it, offering His love in both the stillness and the chaos of my suffering. 

And later, as I watch my tenth cat youtube video for the night, I ask myself what these videos say about God. Who must He be to have created an animal as over-the-top, facetious, furry and fun as a cat? It might sound silly or trivial, but cats can lead us to thankfulness, too. Even if you’re a dog lover! When we look for God with humble parts, we are sure to find Him (Jeremiah 29:13).

Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it like this:

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, 
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”

Humbly pay attention. 
Look for beauty. 
Look for God. 
Even in the darkness, you might just find you’re standing on holy ground.

Respond. 

Take off your shoes.

Thank God!

 

About the Author: Alyssa Zimmerman, like you, is incredibly loved by God. She anxiously offers up her cynicism, fear, and mustard-seed-faith in return. Constantly amazed by grace and relieved by redemption, Alyssa pursues truth, love, justice and Jesus in the midst of disabling chronic pain which has shaped the vast majority of her life and foiled her dreams for college, career, and a family. Instead, Alyssa became a high school dropout, living in poverty and pain, forced to spend most days in bed with an icepack. Nevertheless, she is committed to the great and messy work of therapy and mental health, wishing deep-down healing and wholeness for all.

At home among the trees, the mountains, and the drizzling rain, Alyssa is a PNW native. She is passionate about living vulnerably, wrestling with the hard questions of faith, and pushing beyond the confines of our modern western evangelical culture in the hope of better understanding the fullness of God’s love and more indiscriminately extending it to all. She is a great lover of wit and silence, watcher of documentaries, drinker of tea, and excessive taker of mediocre phone pics.

Hope & Healing: Finding Help in the Journey

Most of us love a good story. We have since we were young.  We love to hear that the underdog wins or the good guy saves the day.  This is partly because we are all living inside an epic story. The question is, do we know and understand our story in a way that we are living our story out, or is our story living us out?  

We’ve covered a lot concerning mental health awareness and understanding how trauma presents itself in our lives over the past month.  Maybe something you heard or read resonated with you in a way that, frankly, is a little scary, and you’re wondering what do I do with this.  Please know you are not alone. We’ve all had those moments where even the idea of taking another breath seems too difficult. But you can and you will.  

Some may think that trauma and healing don’t have much in common.  Yet, just as a pebble thrown into a still body of water creates ripple after ripple, so do the effects of trauma and so do the effects of healing.  When we do the hard work in facing the things we’ve been running from, we become legacy changers. The hope of this month’s podcasts and articles is to help provide a safe place to begin having conversations around what isn’t working in life and ask yourself if God is calling you to work on something.  

To begin the journey of understanding your story you’ll want to find a therapist that you trust.  The therapeutic relationship is important in the process of healing. You are hiring someone to work with you.  I often tell my clients that the space we share as we journey through their story is a sacred one. My hope for you is you find a therapist that treats it as such.  No doubt, the process can be daunting and “we often seek a counselor in times of desperation, which can cloud our judgment”(Kehler, 2011). Please know choosing a counselor is one area where you don’t want to settle.  

How to Choose a Therapist

To help in this process of finding a therapist we are going to take a look at some criteria adapted from an article by Byron Kehler, MS called Choosing a Therapist.  

  • Qualifications: There are varying degrees of education and disciplines in the field of mental health.  Take the time to research what it is you think you need and ask around for referrals. Remember all personality styles may not “click”, so look for someone with whom you feel comfortable.
  • Experience: Experience may be one of the best assurances of competence. It is okay to ask questions of a potential therapist to see how much experience they have had concerning recovery issues.  Have they taken clients, successfully, from beginning to end of the recovery journey? Do they exhibit comfort and confidence in their familiarity with recovery issues? Recognizing the counselor as your employee hired to lead you from one psychological place to another is valuable in planning the selection process.
  • Safety: Personal and emotional safety is a prime ingredient in effective therapy.  Notice what they do to foster your safety. Are they sensitive to your needs both spoken and unspoken? Does their office environment suggest safety?  Are they professional?
  • Philosophy: What is their philosophy of therapy and treatment?  How do they see their role in the process; can they describe or articulate that?  This relationship is often long-term, certainly influential, and even intimate in regard to the type of personal information revealed, how will they handle this?
  • Boundaries: The relationship between client and therapist is a protected one.  If we’ve experienced a severe violation of boundaries; the need for clear therapeutic boundaries to foster safety is essential.  Is this therapist clear regarding the importance of boundaries to safety? Do they explain therapy practices, limits, guidelines, expectations, emergencies, finances, and other practical matters?  Do they seem sensitive to issues of confidentiality relating to self-disclosure, and your own information? The therapy relationship is a professional one and should not include socializing, bartering, blurring of roles, or conflicts of interest.  
  • Active-Responsive:  Do you feel as though the therapist really hears you?  Do they respond directly to your questions and concerns? Do they appear attentive, or easily distracted, during the course of the session?
  • Faith:  How does the therapist’s own faith impact their therapeutic approach, philosophy, and practice?  Are they comfortable discussing faith related issues? How would they describe their belief system?  How important is the issue of faith to you in your healing process?
  • Personal Health: Do they appear healthy and balanced?  Does their lifestyle reflect balance, stability, self-understanding, and adequate personal recovery?  Are they relatively free from pronounced insecurities, fears, control issues, and defensiveness? Do they limit their own self-disclosure, and focus on your needs rather than their own?  Remember, a therapist can only take you to where they have arrived themselves.
  • Summary: Start with the phone and friends.  You can often get some of your general questions answered over the phone in a few minutes at no cost, to help identify those you may actually want to meet.  When interviewing them in person, identify why you are there (shopping for a therapist) and ask your questions. You can take notes if you like to later reflect on their answers.  Don’t be afraid to meet with more than one therapist to compare. If they are uncomfortable with your process of selection and evaluation, then keep looking. Don’t get frustrated if some counselors are busy and difficult to get in to see.  If they are busy, there probably is a good reason. They may be worth waiting for. Above all, trust your intuition. Don’t expect to immediately trust your therapist or the therapy process. That takes time. Keep asking questions and evaluating progress.

As we close this month, I want to thank you for listening and reading.  Please know you are thought of and prayed for. Remember that the human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed.  It simply wants to be witnessed exactly how it is. And that is what we find when we embrace Yes/And thinking.  We begin to reach out, ask for help, and invite God into this epic story that continues to be written.

With hope for healing,

Marnee

Marnee Alfson is an EMDR trained trauma specialist in private practice in Vancouver, WA.  Marnee received her training under the direction of leading author and developer of Story Informed Trauma Therapy (SITT), Byron Kehler, MS. She has worked with survivors of various traumas such as sexual and/or domestic assault, displacement, first responders, attachment in relationships, body image, life transitions and mood management.

She believes we gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience we choose to walk through.  Trauma recovery therapy is an important part of hope in helping other survivors live their lives free of the pain they have experienced. http://www.riverbendwa.com/

 

Byron Kehler, M.S. is a Trauma Therapist in private practice in Milwaukie, Oregon. He has worked with survivors of physical, sexual, emotional, mental, and spiritual abuse for over 40 years. Byron has been certified by the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress and is certified in EMDR with a specialization in Dissociative Disorders.

Byron has presented on various childhood trauma recovery themes around the country at churches, social services agencies, public and private schools, colleges, universities, and professional conferences. He has provided humanitarian relief services for natural disasters in Asia after the tsunami and the gulf coast post-hurricane Katrina, training therapists in trauma recovery.  He is the author and developer of Story-Informed Trauma Therapy (SITT), for recovery from early childhood trauma. This evidence-based model has been taught to mental health therapists in agencies in New Orleans and the gulf coast following Hurricane Katrina and has been proven effective in improving the lives of trauma survivors. http://www.byronkehler.com/

 

Podcast 020 – “Hope & Healing: Trauma, the Brain, and How We Can Reclaim Our Story” with Chelsea Van Essen

What is trauma and how does it affect the brain and our overall mental health? After experiencing trauma, is it possible to find restoration and reclaim the authorship of our own story? How do we begin the process of healing and what can we expect as we do?

Join host Lisa DaSilva as she talks to therapist Chelsea Van Essen in an effort to better understand how neuroscience and the brain respond to trauma and the steps we can take to find healing.

Find a printable copy of helpful definitions and diagrams from Logos Wilderness Therapy here:

 

About Chelsea Van Essen: Chelsea is a passionate social justice advocate, entrepreneur, and outdoor educator. Beginning her first anti-trafficking organization at Seattle Pacific University, today she continues to fight alongside others for their restoration and freedom as a founder and Clinical Director of Logos Wilderness Therapy. Chelsea has a Masters of Social Work, is a bilingual licensed therapist and has over six years of guiding experience leading deep wilderness trips in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. As the Clinical Director of Logos, she specializes in creating wilderness experiences that cultivate wholeness, healing and hope for survivors.

Hope & Healing: A Sacred Invitation

She was no stranger to the realities of suffering. By her mid-twenties she’d nearly died from the effects of pervasive domestic abuse. 

She had given her time and energy to service in her church and to her family. She had pursued Christian literature on topics of marriage, biblical submission, and living self-sacrificially; she had begged God to take the oppression she was suffering from her shoulders. Still, her world went dark.

Her shoulders sagged beneath the invisible weight of grief and of depression as she walked into the office that first day. Unwilling and even unable to meet the gentle eyes of the therapist sitting across from her, she began to slowly edge the door open to her story. Her tone devoid of all emotion, she began revealing the harrowing details of her life. 

That woman was me. 

I was suffering from a deep depression – A mental illness resulting from a chemical imbalance in the brain. In my case, something we believed happened as a somatic response to the chronic suffering I had endured. I needed help, and fast.  

I began working with a trauma therapist and slowly learned to allow the deep resounding cry of lament to reverberate through my soul. My recovery, the beginning of my journey back to mental health, was through  treatment by a trained mental health therapist. It would become the single most gracious act of the Divine I have ever encountered. 

Under the weight of chronic and repeated abuse I, like many other women in similar circumstances, began to suffer from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) becoming widely known in the mental health community of practitioners as complex post-traumatic stress disorder (or c-PTSD).  As with PTSD, alterations to regions of the brain result in the classic symptoms of depression, anxiety, issues of memory, and even reasoning. Other signs of c-PTSD include hypervigilance, dissociation, difficulty with emotional regulation, and pervasive negative self-view among others. 

The Healing Truth

We hear stories like this with alarming frequency within the walls of the church. Too often we have taken in a doctrine that translates the message of prayer, submission, and forgiveness into a death sentence of chronic suffering because we don’t know enough about what God desires for our emotional well being. 

Mental illness needs to be approached with a holistic understanding – One that encompasses both the scientific and the deeply spiritual. The church has a responsibility to become aware of the intricate realities that the body of Christ faces in the areas of depression, anxiety, addiction, and a multitude of other psychoses. It is not enough that we teach repentance, prayer, contemplation, community and self-care. While these are necessary tenets of emotional wellbeing, they are not treatment of mental illness. 

Mental Illness Vs. Mental Health 

Mental illnesses are diagnosable medical conditions that result in changes in patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior. They lead to ruptures in the functioning of relationships in work, school, and families, causing distress for the bearer and their community. Mental illness is indiscriminate, affecting any person regardless of demographic with nearly one of every five people within the pews across churches in the United States experiencing some form of mental illness (American Psychiatric Association, 2019). The good news is that mental illness is treatable if we give our people the right and consistent access necessary for healing and recovery: Trained clinical therapists and medical doctors. 

Sometimes the language we use to discuss the intricacies of personality and/or characteristics of the people around us can be confusing. Mental illness is different than mental health. Mental health (aka: emotional health) is centered around the idea that with intentionality and awareness we can influence the way our brains affect our mood, thus impacting either positively or negatively our relationships. Healthy, helpful mindful awareness is the act of nourishing the body, mind, and soul. 

 It may look like any number or combination of the following:

  • Contemplative prayer (Lectio Divina)
  • Solitude
  • Body movement
  • Time spent outdoors
  • Striving to maintain a healthy diet
  • Boundaries in relationships (including the use of the word “No!”)
  • Healthy sleep hygiene
  • Self-care
  • Rest

When we engage the holistic body with gentleness and gratitude we ultimately honor the God of all creation who asks us above all else to love and be loved. The invitation we have been given is to sit in the presence of holy whether in relationships with others, in quiet before God, or within the beauty of nature or any other number of ways God reveals himself to us. 

Reclamation

I was once burdened with deep depression and will likely always be in recovery from c-PTSD. However, I was also given access to healing through a trained mental health professional and medical intervention. This access gave me the tools I needed to decrease my symptoms, and regain my connection to the presence of Holy. Others deserve the same. You deserve the same. 

Properly understanding the impact of mental illness allows us to join hands with those around us in the holiest calling ever given: love God and love others well. Love is where compassion is expressed and healing is found. Love is the sacred invitation to return to Jesus who asked us simply…to show up. 

 

About the Author: Kimberly is passionate about the way life is lived out in relationships. She’s smart and sassy, compassionate, and a little sarcastic too. A sole parent to three bio teens, and parenting two more, she is on staff with YoungLife in their ministry to teen moms and is a pre-licensed trauma therapist in Oregon and SW Washington. Her work has focused on domestic violence advocacy and trauma recovery utilizing a relational neuroscience model integrating the science of neurobiology with the art of attachment. Find more information about Kimberly’s practice here, and link to more of her writing on the Redemptive Grace blog

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