Chapter OneWords to Live By
By age thirty, I seemed to have put the pain of my mother's
death behind me. I had married Paul, a caring man, when I was
twenty. Now, ten years into our marriage, he was pastoring a
growing church. I was busy launching a women's ministries
program, playing the piano during worship services, teaching
Bible studies, and housing guests. My husband and I were also
rearing three daughters, aged six and under.
While my life may have appeared perfect on the outside,
I was miserable inside. After my mother's death, I had desperately
wanted to connect with my dad as I had with my mother.
I had longed for him to put his arms around me and tell me that
he loved me. I had tried to please my dad and live up to his
expectations, but I never quite felt good enough and sensed I
was a burden to him. While I believe that deep down he loved
me, it seemed as if we were miles apart emotionally. I kept
hoping that my dad would change, but he never did.
Seeds of bitterness that had been planted during my teen
years were growing and choking the life out of me. I likened my
bitterness to a pair of handcuffs. My hand was in one cuff and
my dad's hand was in the other, and I ended up mentally dragging
him with me wherever I went each day. But dwelling on
and rehearsing the hurts he had caused kept me in bondage.
The old saying "Bitterness is like acid; it only eats up the
container that holds it" is true. I was being eaten alive.
DRAWN TO THE BOOK
A step toward change came in a surprising way. That summer
I received my first invitation to speak at a conference. I was
asked to speak on the topic "Daily Devotions" at a youth
convention in Urbana, Illinois, during the upcoming Christmas
break. When I first received the invitation, I groaned inwardly.
First of all, the thought of speaking to two thousand teens was
frightening; I had never enjoyed public speaking. Second, and
more important, how could I teach something I did not do
myself? Others probably assumed I read my Bible daily. After
all, I loved God, I had been raised in a pastor's home, and I was
a pastor's wife.
Actually, although I knew the importance of reading the
Bible, I had thought I could get by just reading it once in a while
or on Sundays. I justified this by assuring myself that the Lord
understood how busy I was with church and family matters.
I just had too much to do to have a regular quiet time.
God was getting my leftover time, if even that. I couldn't
remember the last time I had given him my best time. As I
prayed about speaking to those teens, I knew I could only
accept that speaking invitation if I got into the Word myself.
Bothered by my lack of discipline and pressed by the conference
organizers to give them an answer, I sought out Joy, another
"Do you have devotions every day?" I asked her. She said,
"Yes, I do. I've been doing it consistently for the past five
I was amazed! Joy had four young children, yet she had
read her Bible every day for the past five years. "How do you
do it, and how do I get started?" I asked with much skepticism.
Her answer dramatically changed the way I read Scripture.
READ UNTIL GOD SPEAKS TO YOU
"Start today!" she challenged. "Ask God to speak to you from
his Word, and read until he shows you an insight, promise,
correction, or encouragement." So that was it. Read the Word
of God until the Lord speaks to you.
I whined that I didn't think I had the discipline to do this
every day. Joy reminded me that doing something for twenty-one
days makes it become a habit. I was still skeptical. "Marilyn,"
Joy said, "simply read the Word until God speaks to you.
You may read only one paragraph, but if you sense your heavenly
Father stopping you, then pause and see what God wants
to do with that passage in your life for that day."
Since the Word of God contains powerful truths, it will take
considerable time to digest it, she said. Joy encouraged me to
keep a notebook and write down the verse that I sensed God
speaking to me about.
As I considered Joy's advice, I realized that deep inside I
was tired of my excuses for not being in the Word on a daily
basis. I wanted to do something about it. I wasn't merely feeling
a guilt trip brought on by the upcoming speaking engagement;
I was being convicted by the Holy Spirit. For the first time, I was
hungry for the Bread of Life.
I began to read the Word at night before I went to bed. I
started at the beginning of the Bible and read until I sensed the
Holy Spirit wanted me to catch something. Sometimes I read
only a few verses before I stopped. Sometimes I read a couple
of chapters, but there was always a truth for me to learn. I also
read some psalms each day, as they comforted me in my
continued inward struggle over the lack of connection with my
I read with an expectation that God would, indeed, speak
to my heart. Most nights a word, verse, or phrase seemed to
lift off the page at me. I was amazed at how many verses just
"happened" to fit with my experiences that day.
During this time before the conference, I read Psalm 119.
Verses 16 and 18 caught my attention: "I delight in your
decrees; I will not neglect your word" (v. 16). "Open my eyes
that I may see wonderful things in your law" (v. 18).
Lord Jesus, I prayed, please help me not to neglect your Word
any longer. Open my eyes to see the wonderful things you want to
teach me. Help me to be disciplined in this. It is important to you
and it is essential for me. Help me see that I cannot live one day
without your Living Word. The Lord did, in fact, help me to begin
hungering for his Word.
Five months later, I stood before those two thousand teens
and shared how a thirty-year-old woman had finally gotten into
the Word. I urged them not to wait so long. After the session,
many teens (and adults) told me that they too struggled to read
the Bible daily. Some confessed that while they were eager to
read (and reread) love letters from their boyfriend or girlfriend,
they lacked the same desire to read the Bible-God's "love
letter" to them.
DRAWING ON THE BOOK
The energy and joy I felt after speaking at Urbana quickly turned
into anxiety when I returned home to discover that some conflicts
within our church were about to boil over. A group of about
thirty from our fellowship desired to go in a different direction
from what the church leadership had planned. Every day during
this trying time, I poured out my heart to God. Did the Word of
God have answers for this difficult situation? I wondered.
I soon had my answer, as the psalms I read came alive and
seemed to have been written just for me. The psalm writers
addressed the very issues I was experiencing
-betrayal, unfair treatment, and the
desire to escape to a far-off place. Psalm
55:6-8 in particular spoke powerfully to me:
"Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would
fly away and be at rest-I would flee far
away and stay in the desert; I would hurry
to my place of shelter, far from the tempest
I became desperate for God and searched my Bible each
night for a thread of hope. I wanted to leave our congregation,
but Paul did not feel released by the Lord to do so. Because this
difficult situation lasted a few years, I was forced to stay in the
Word. Later I saw how the Lord used the pain of those experiences
to shape me solely by his Word. Would I seek human
help, or would I go to the Lord first?
As the dissension persisted, I wrote over and over in my
journal, "Father, how long is this going to go on?" Yet I ended
every page with a promise from Scripture that the Lord would
work out his purposes.
My journal entry for December 28, l983, reads, "Dear Father,
help me to trust you during these next few months. We have
received a 'prophecy' from a disgruntled person in the congregation
who says that 'God is going to close the doors of Central
Wesleyan Church at the close of December l983.' Is this true?"
It continues, "I wonder what l984 holds? Father, the situation
we are going through is so desperate . these are rough days,
please give us clear direction. I feel so frightened. Do you want
us to leave Central? I sometimes get the feeling we should
leave. Either help us overcome or let us go-whatever you
want." My journal entry for that day concluded with Ephesians
3:20 (TLB): "Now glory be to God who by his mighty power at
work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare
to ask or even dream of-infinitely beyond our highest prayers,
desires, thoughts, or hopes."
In spite of that bright promise, it didn't seem possible that
God could do anything through us, let alone do "far more than
we would ever dare to ask." It was hard to trust him because
of all the hurt we were experiencing.
December of l983 came and went and the church doors
were still open. However, by May l984 discouragement and
depression lay heavy on our hearts. My journal reveals that "we
have learned that our 'friends' have turned against us. This is a
hard rejection to take, Father. I know that you understand how
Thirty people had left to form a new church. I was tired of
seeing my husband hurt. "Honey," I said one evening when he
returned very late from a board meeting, "I will gladly pack our
bags if you will just give me the okay." Paul still did not feel at
peace about leaving.
WORDS FROM ANOTHER
In the midst of my despair, I learned that sometimes God
enables others to comfort us through his Word. One afternoon,
as I was kneeling beside my bed praying about the heavy cloud
of discouragement I was under, the phone rang. My father-in-law
had been praying for us and was calling to share a verse
he had just read. "I believe this verse is for you and Paul. Listen:
'But the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory
in Christ, will, after you have suffered awhile, Himself equip,
stabilize, strengthen, and firmly establish you' (1 Peter 5:10, MLB,
What a comforting verse! My father-in-law, who lived
twenty-five hundred miles away, had been in the Word and
was prompted by the Holy Spirit to share that verse with us at
exactly the perfect time.
Later I asked the Lord, Is it possible that you will indeed
equip, stabilize, strengthen, and establish us? I wanted so
desperately to believe that. I had nothing
else to encourage me, so I clung to that
promise. I was at the bottom of a deep
well. The sides were so slippery that I
could not climb out myself. It was as if the
Lord reached down to where I was in that
dark hole and pulled me out with his
strong arm and with that verse.
Not long after that phone call, both my husband and I began
to feel the oppression lift. Our church had an incredible time of
prayer one Sunday. Many people prayed for church unity and
forgiveness, and we felt a renewed spirit among the congregation.
We had new joy and enthusiasm; God's church was going
forward. More than twenty-five years later, we are still
pastoring in that same church.
I have learned the most about God and myself through difficult
situations. At such times, God strips away all other
comforts and crutches and teaches us to rely on him alone.
HEALING A PAST WOUND
As the tension within our church abated, the deep heart wound
I still carried over the lack of relationship with my dad began to
ache again. It was so deep that only the Lord Jesus could reach
down far enough to remove the bitterness that had been growing
over the years.
One evening as I was reading the book of Nehemiah, I came
to these words: "Remember me with favor, O my God, for all I
have done for these people" (Nehemiah 5:19). (Nehemiah had
served as governor for twelve years.)
I laughed out loud. Father, I mused, do you know what
Nehemiah wanted from you? He wanted affirmation! All of a
sudden, I was stopped short by a voice inside my heart.
Yes, Marilyn, and that is exactly what you want-affirmation.
You are not going to get that from your dad, but if you come to me
I will affirm you.
Those words penetrated me very deeply. I was not used
to the Holy Spirit speaking in a still, small voice. It was not an
audible voice but rather an inner impression. I cannot explain
exactly what happened in that moment, but as I was reading
Scripture, the Scripture read me! I knew that I needed to forgive
my dad for his years of neglect and abandonment in my life.
I began to weep. Oh, Father, I do want his affirmation so badly.
Every time I talk to my dad I always hope he will change. He never
does. I understand that I cannot fix my dad. Lord Jesus, even though
my dad may not be able to change, I can change with your help.
Forgiveness began to wash over me. I had struggled to
forgive my dad for years. Yet when I heard my heavenly Father
speak those words to me, something broke free within me. It
was cleansing; it was healing; and it was instantaneous. True,
my dad hadn't changed, but I was different. The Lord began to
replace my bitterness with compassion for my father. I had been
waiting to heal first and then forgive him. The Lord showed me
that I needed to heal by forgiving him first.
I was amazed at the way a passage of Scripture could bring
such a major life change to me. That passage from Nehemiah
doesn't even mention the topic of forgiveness. It was simply the
Word and the Spirit of God moving powerfully in my thoughts
God spoke his promises of healing to me through other
verses as well: "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and
saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18), and he
stands "at the right hand of the needy one" (Psalm 109:31). I
experienced firsthand Psalm 107:20: "He sent forth his word and
healed them." When I was very needy, the Lord used his "living
and active" Word to heal my damaged emotions (Hebrews
4:12). He extracted the root of bitterness within me.
By this point I realized that I could not live without the Word
of God on a daily basis. God had shown me how his Word could
help me with a large assignment, such as speaking to the teens.
He'd also demonstrated that the Word could bring comfort
during a rough church situation and healing to deep-seated
bitterness. I had seen for myself how the Bible brought great
hope in those crisis times. Now I was ready to see if God would
speak to me from his Word in everyday, ordinary situations.
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