Are You Still in Chains?

The misfortunes of the past and present can be undone by the powerful effect of God’s ever-present word.

It’s fashionable in our time to attribute behavior to genes and family vices, temperament and educational opportunities, domineering parents and sibling rivalry. Certainly these all can leave their mark on our personality, but we must never lose sight of this fact: Our backgrounds do not determine what we can become in Christ.

We aren’t left to muddle through life on our own. The potential for comfort, for change, and for growth lies in daily applying God’s word to our past and present circumstances.

By the time I went to college I could match inferiority for inferiority with almost any twenty-one-year-old and come out more inferior. My mother died when I, the youngest of seven children, was a year old. I grew up on a farm during the Depression. We were very poor, and I felt the absence of a mother’s love keenly.

When I arrived at Wheaton College as a young Christian I was self-conscious and painfully aware that I wasn’t pretty, that I had no boyfriend, that I had no natural gifts or talents, and that my speech was stuttered and thickened with a Swedish accent. When I met other students on the sidewalk I knew they didn’t want to talk with me, so I quickly glanced down into my purse until they passed, and then kept walking.

It was at this time that I memorized Galatians 2:20-“I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live. Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” As this verse gripped my heart, I grew more and more fascinated with the knowledge that Christ was living in me, and less and less consumed by my own inferiorities. Christ was the one I wanted others to see in me.

Getting hold of this truth, I would grit my teeth as I passed someone on the sidewalk, and say “Hi!” As I applied the principle of focusing on Christ living in me rather than on my own inadequacies, my personality gradually was freed in even greater ways.

I’ve been amazed throughout my life at the opportunities Satan snatches to wage his devious attacks on our minds. The night before John and I were married should have been one of the happiest nights of my life. God had worked so wonderfully in bringing us together, and the preparations for the following day were perfect.

But as I prepared to retire for the night I was overwhelmed with a thought that hadn’t disturbed my mind for years-I didn’t have a mother. I began to cry uncontrollably. The verse I hung on to at that moment was one written on a card that came with a wedding gift-“It is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich, and He adds no sorrow to it” (Proverbs 10:22). As I repeatedly reviewed and claimed that promise, I was able to relax and drift off to sleep, and to awaken the next morning free to bask in the beauty and glory of our wedding day.

Later, my background began to resurface again in our communication in marriage. I had never heard words of endearment exchanged or seen affection displayed in my home as a child. But John is a southerner for whom warm words and affection come naturally. In my daily reading God impressed me with this verse: “In everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge” (1 Corinthians 1:5). As I claimed that verse for my own situation, God began to give me words to express the feelings buried so deeply within me.

One of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is to bring God’s word to our recall after we faithfully tuck it away in our minds. While John and I were expecting our first child, I memorized Job 12:9-10-“Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind?”

I went into labor with no intuition about any complications in the child’s birth. But as I came to consciousness after the delivery, I remember saying, “Dr. Reese, I didn’t hear the baby cry.” The doctor, a kindly old gentleman, put his arms around me and replied, “Helen, your baby was born dead.”

At that instant the verse from Job came to my mind and ministered to my spirit. For hours thereafter, as I faded in and out of consciousness, God faithfully comforted me with his word and began to heal the wound of losing our first child.

John encouraged me to invest spiritually in the lives of young women the time that I otherwise would have invested in our son that year. As I look back, God exchanged physical death for spiritual life in those women in a miraculous way. Over the years each of them has significantly ministered to the body of Christ around the world.

God’s word is sufficient for the commonplace as well as the dramatic. Every day we encounter problems or potential problems in our relationships with people around us. Perhaps we feel that others have failed us, or ridiculed our abilities, or even rejected us. In each situation, we’re faced with a choice of either dwelling on the negative response of others or recalling to our mind God’s true opinion of us.

Our mind is not a vacuum. Rather than trying to repress negative thoughts, we must substitute others, even as Jeremiah did-“This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is Thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23). As we steep our minds in God’s response to us, we find our inferiorities, our inadequacies, and the pain of rejection dissipating in the warmth of his total acceptance.

In 1970 our family packed our belongings and flew to New Zealand to live. After boarding the plane I was weary to the bone from the effort of the move, and when the children were occupied I retired to a seat in the back to continue reading in Genesis. God used Genesis 45:8-“Therefore it was not you who sent me here, but God”-to stir me afresh with the thought that it wasn’t The Navigators who were sending us to New Zealand, or our home church which had commissioned us, but God himself. The truth in this verse became an anchor for me over the next eight years as I adjusted to a new country and culture.

Perhaps it is in raising our children that I have relied most on the sufficiency of God’s word to pull us through each diverse situation. I remember one particular crisis for Jay, our oldest child. Although he is not a naturally gifted swimmer, he had trained mercilessly in two-a-day workouts for four years to earn a place on a regional swimming team in New Zealand. But when the time came to announce the team, Jay wasn’t chosen.

As he and I cried together, God brought to mind the encouragement of this verse: “But I said, ‘I have toiled in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely the justice due me is with the Lord, and my reward with my God'” (Isaiah 49:4). That verse began Jay’s road to recovery from one of the most crushing disappointments of his teenage years. What a blessing to be able to comfort and encourage him with something more than “Better luck next time.”

Over the years I’ve been challenged by the example of Mary, who-when she was pregnant with Jesus-spoke a stream of praise for God’s plan for the ages (Luke 1:46-55). There are approximately twenty references and allusions to the Old Testament in this short passage. Mary was obviously a woman who filled her mind with God’s word, and I believe this allowed her to praise God for his redemptive plan in history and for the events of her life. This has become one of my life goals-that praise for God might spring readily from my mouth.

The older I get, the more Scripture memory becomes a matter of spiritual survival. Knowing that our names are written in God’s book is no insurance policy against the trials and testing of life. “Her lamp of faith and dependence upon God does not go out; but full of His Spirit, it burns on continuously through the night of trouble, privation, or sorrow, warning away such robbers as fear, doubt, and distrust” (Proverbs 31:18, Amplified Bible).

Because of what I’ve seen God do in my life-the opportunities and privileges he’s given me, and the depths from which he brought me-I can assure anyone that if we trust God and step out believing his word, God will accomplish for us far more than anything we could imagine. God’s word gives us the peaceful assurance of salvation as we embark on the Christian life, and it is also sufficient to undo the misfortunes of our past and our present, reconstructing our personality for his future service.

God’s word is truly adequate for a lifetime.
Discipleship Journal – Discipleship Journal.

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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