Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Springs For Her Desert

I met a resourceful woman of virtue in the Book of Judges who struck a chord in my heart. Becoming acquainted with her opened my eyes and tied some loose ends for me on an important issue. She fanned my passion to flame and motivated me to take my pursuit of a dream to the next level. She challenged me not to settle for the status quo but to take the step of faith and lay hold of what is mine according to the promises of God. Her name is Acsah, the daughter of Caleb and the wife of Othniel.
Her father would give her in marriage only to a courageous man of valor who would wholeheartedly pursue the promise of God and possess the land of Kirjath-sepher (Judges 1:11-15).  Othniel won the battle and Acsah became his bride. She encouraged her husband to ask her father for a field. She was given Negev for her inheritance. Negev was an arid desert. She knew what she needed to make what she had been given viable. She took the step of faith and went to her father. She asked for a favor, she wanted a spring for her field and she got a double portion.
She is the daughter of the man who had said to Joshua, “Give me this mountain of which the Lord has spoken in that day … I shall be able to drive them out.” Caleb drove out the formidable race of the Anakims from his promised inheritance. He was not afraid but he had faith in God. He went out with boldness to claim what has been promised him. He was not prepared to miss out on the fullness of his promised possession neither was he going to accommodate strangers in his promised land. She learnt from her father how to aggressively pursue after the promise of God. She said “Give me a blessing …” in the same manner as her father. She exhibited the same confidence in God as her father and asked for springs for the land she was given as inheritance. Not to fight to possess the promise God has given us is apathetic, undesirable and act of unbelief.
Acsah represents a woman who will not be denied her full inheritance. “She took the initiative to procure a greater blessing for her husband’s progeny” through her request for the springs. She is an example of the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 who in verse 16 considers new fields prudently—giving sound considerations to new initiatives. She is proactive and actively sought after the fullness of God’s promise.
Acsah is definitely not the picture of someone who is unconcerned or in passive acceptance of her lot. Rather, she is assertive, forward looking and a blessing to her husband and their descendants. She is a woman who not only can dream but is willing to take the next steps to make her dream a reality. Based on her sound understanding of the promises of God, she asked according to the will of God and she received.
If you read the story of Acsah in the context of her environment, you will note that the tribes of Israel did not drive out the enemies out of the land in their entirety as God had commanded but they accommodated them. However, Acsah, Othniel and Caleb stood out as those who would not accommodate strangers in their Promised Land but fight to possess it.
What are you accommodating in your life that you ought to take aggressive steps to drive out? What are those things that are harassing you and you have shown no inherent desire to deal with?
Do not be passive, satisfied with your lot as it is or rest on your laurels because you have made some progress but seek to possess the fullness of God’s promise for your life. Do not settle for anything less than the fullness of God’s promise for you in every sphere of your life.
What do you need to make your desert viable and vibrant? Will you decide today to go beyond thinking about the problems, unfulfilled dreams and desires? Will take the step of faith based on the understanding of God’s Word and reach to the next level?
I share with you this beautiful poem from windows and mirrors:
Acsah shows no fear
She sees her desert
And asks for water…

See the link for the full poem

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happenstance or God's Guidance

Happenstance refers to a chance occurrence (Collins English Dictionary) or a chance event. An event that appeared to have happened without an apparent cause, also described as a coincidence.
The story of Ruth is a clear case of happenstance versus God’s guidance. In order to feed herself and her mother-in-law, Naomi, Ruth had decided to go and glean after the reapers. In Chapter 2 verse 3, the phrase “she happened to” jumped at me. It caught my attention and held me captivated—she happened to stop at the corner of the field belonging to a man called Boaz. But did she really find herself there by chance?
I have read the Book of Ruth a few times in the past and had even done an in-depth study when I wrote an article on Mother and Daughter-in-law relationship but not once did I take note of that phrase the way I did that morning.
It was not by chance or coincidence that Ruth ended up in the field belonging to the man who would later redeem her. It was a divine appointment. Events in our lives don’t just happen. It is amazing how God uses small and seemly inconsequential events to orchestrate His larger plan for our lives. The story of Ruth and Boaz is an example of God designed connection. In her search for favor, God guided her by His unseen hands to where He had providentially prepared untold favor and kindness for her.
The story of my life is replete with many examples of such happenstance and connections which later became a catalyst for a chain of events that have brought untold blessings to my life or a springboard with which God launched me to a new and flourishing level. Here is one example of such “chance occurrence.”
In October 1992, I was invited for an interview as a Nutrition Officer with an international agency. I prepared as best as I could for the interview. As I left the office, the day before the interview to travel to the city where it was holding, I passed by my friend’s office. I ‘happened’ to look up to the book shelf overhead and an orange-colored publication caught my attention. I pulled it out and it was …Nutrition Goals for the 1990s. Needless to say, I read the volume all through the 150km-trip to Lagos and half the night. The following morning, every question I was asked at the interview came from that book!
Three months later, I received a phone call to take up the position. I learnt later that there was a bit of a debate following the interview because I had the least number of years of experience for the position but my performance far outweighed all contrary argument. Simply because a brightly colored publication which had been on the shelf for at least a year happened to catch my attention at that moment I was leaving for the interview. That was not a happenstance or coincidence but divine guidance. It was also the beginning of a 15-year-long career with the organization.
Sometimes it is difficult to see how a chance event could have been guided by the Hands of God especially when it seems to cause so much pain and distress. When we know that we are not a product of chance but every event in our lives in being used of God to work out His ultimate purpose, we can be assured that even in that contrary or adverse situation God is working out something good in our lives. His thoughts towards us are thoughts of good. He works all things together for our good.
These chance events are small pieces of a jigsaw fitting together into the large picture God has of our lives. So don’t despise the days of small beginnings. You will be amazed what God is using that small event in your life to prepare you for.
Will you trust God to guide you by His unseen hands to the place He has prepared for you ahead of time?
Irene O. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Praise that breaks the yoke

Oh that men will praise the Lord, for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! He has broken the gates of brass and cut the bars of iron in asunder.– Ps 107:15-16.
I found myself singing a song based on this verse a few days ago and I paused to ponder on the verse. Brass and iron are hard metals, that's why you can make gates and bars with them including prison gates, shackles and bars. The verse revealed to me the infinite and mighty power of God to deal with hard and knotty issues in our lives, and the complex situations we are often faced with. Difficult times in our lives can drive us to self pity, despair and sometimes depression. Many people who have experienced knotty and complex situations can testify of the feeling of heaviness and a sense of hopelessness that can accompany despair; which in itself holds the individual bound as with a heavy shackle or yoke.
This verse tells me that God has the power to break the yoke of self-pity and to deliver from despair and depression. When we worship and praise God, and give Him a sacrifice of thanksgiving--burdens are lifted, yokes are broken and the restraining bars of iron are cut asunder. Let me share my experience in this regard.
About a year ago, my doctors suggested to me the option of having a surgical procedure which they deemed the only medical option left to address the respiratory difficulties I suffer from. This is a risky and delicate procedure. It required that I had a medical workup to ensure that I qualify for the procedure, and also that I do not have any underlying condition that could pose additional risk to me both during and after the surgical procedure. During the workup, I had to meet with all the specialists who are likely to be involved in the procedure. Afterwards, I got a preliminary clearance for the procedure. One of the surgeons thereafter became very concerned about my medical history which he deemed complex and he felt that this will not only pose additional risk to the surgery but it is a sufficient reason not to do it at all. He wanted to review the case again more thoroughly before agreeing to the procedure. He was so brusque in presenting the facts that his words fell like a heavy load of bricks on me. I felt suffocated listening to him.  I tried hard to shake it off.
When we left his office to wait to see the other specialists, my husband kept encouraging me and speaking the word of God to me. It was not the first time that we had left a doctor’s office and we had to confess that we know whose report we would believe. We believe in the report of the Lord and His report says “I am healed.” Though all the other specialists we saw were optimistic about the procedure but the report of the older surgeon weighed heavily on my spirit.
When we got home, I went straight to my room and wailed before God. I was very angry with the surgeon and I resented the offhanded way he addressed the issue. While I agreed he had the responsibility to present all the facts but I felt he could have done it without making the situation look so hopeless. I felt overwhelmed by the heaviness in my spirit. All I could do was wail from the depth of my heart. I knew I had to deal with the anger immediately otherwise not only would the seed of offense take root in my heart; also the feeling of despair will overwhelm me. I slept off out of sheer exhaustion.
The following morning, I told my husband I was not coming out of the room until I can open my mouth and give praise to God. I asked him to set up the iPod to play some praise and worship songs to help lift my spirit up. After listening to the songs for a while, I found myself meditating on the lyrics and soon I started to sing along, first quietly and then loudly. Don Moen’s song “I will sing” particularly ministered to me. The more I sang--“I will sing, I will praise even in my darkest times … Lift my hands to honour You because Your word is true, I will sing”--the more the tears flowed. The flood gate just busted open and I started to weep. This time it was not a wail of despair but tears flowing from an overwhelming assurance of God’s love for me and a confident hope that He would not allow me to be tried more that I can bear. The more I sang praise, the lighter my spirit became and the power of that praise kept me from the brink of self pity and despair.
Whether you are at the brink of despair or deep down in the pit of depression, this one assurance I can give you, God loves you and He has the power to break the gates of brass and the bars of iron in your life. As you lift His name high in praise, you will be lifted out of that pit and be set free from the yoke of self pity, despair and depression. Praise breaks the yoke of self pity, despair and depression. Entertaining self pity and despair is destructive. It wastes your energy and drains you emotionally. An attitude of praise will keep you in check. That was what it did for me.

What about you? What has the power of praise broken in your life?

Irene O.

"I will sing" by Don Moen.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Her prodigal son

Give me my due and let me go”.
The loud furious cry reached her from across the hall. Her husband and her son were at it again. In quick strides, she rushed out of the kitchen across the hall into the living room just as the young man stumped out of the room. He shrugged off the arm she stretched out to restrain him. The walls vibrated as he slammed the front door behind him.
She winced and said, “When would this stop O Lord, when?”
The two men were bent on inflicting the deepest wounds possible with their cutting words. This has been going on for so long. The angry father and the arrogant son share one trait in common: an ability to hurt each other deeply with words, and she is caught right in between them. She turned towards her husband, he was visibly shaken, his chest was heaving and she could hear his heavy breathing.
Pointing at the shut door, he said, “Did you hear your son shouting at me? Did you see the way your son disrespected me and stormed out?
Yes, he is indeed her son. If it were possible for a heart to be broken with grief, hers was. She flinched at the intensity of the animosity her husband expressed. How did their relationship get to this point that their son so embittered has lost all sense of proportion and reasoning, and the father so angry that he could exercise no control over his tongue?
His resentment had been simmering for a longtime. He complained and grumbled that his father treated him differently from his older brothers. He felt his brothers got more attention from their father but he had to beg for everything he got. He resented his brothers and his mother for not standing up to their father. He said many times he would honor his father only when he fulfills his responsibilities towards him.
That was five years ago. In those years, there had been no contact with their son; he literarily disowned the family when he did not get what he wanted. He could not be reached by phone or email. No one knew where he lives or work. She agonizes every day in prayers, entreating God to touch his heart, turn him around and bring him back home. Her heart aches with longing and desire to hear her son’s voice and to hold him in her arms again. Many times the pain of not knowing what has happened to him felt like a hot iron searing through her heart.
Yes, she is surrounded by her other children and many grandchildren, yet there remains a hollow in her heart which none of them could fill. Each child has his own space in the heart of a mother.
She propped herself up on the bed. Her eyes glimmered with tears; she decided she will shed no tears of sorrow today as she recalled the events that fateful day. Not today…. She will remember the joy that flooded her heart when the nurse placed his small long body wrapped in blue blanket into her waiting arms. She will remember how she blessed God for his safe delivery and declared him a gift from God. She will remember the blessings she pronounced on him that day. She made up her mind to offer to God a sacrifice of worship and praise at every remembrance of her son today. Her mouth will flow in ceaseless praise. Each time the thought of her son fills her heart, she will allow it to direct her attention to God in worship. She knows the eyes of the Lord must be upon him wherever he is right now. He must be unhidden from the sight of God and right under His watchful and direct attention. She is unyielding in her resolve to wait for God. She will wait patiently. She will wait with hope. She will wait in expectation for that day, appointed by God and her prodigal son will return home. To give up on that hope is to declare him dead. She will wait for the day that she will again hold him in her arms…broken, contrite and restored.
She lifted her head and her hands high up and began to sing a song of praise. That was when she took note of the song streaming softly from the CD player. “It is well with my soul” had been playing over and over again. Her husband must have put that on for her. She praised God that his heart is softening towards his son. Though they do not talk about their son, she knew that somewhere deep in his heart he wished the young man will come back home.

Whatever your prodigal son’s story may be, don’t give up hope, in due season he will be restored to you.
This post is dedicated to all those praying for a prodigal child to be restored.

“It is in the quiet crucible of our personal private sufferings
that our noblest dreams are born and God’s greatest gifts are given,
and often given in compensation for what we’ve been through.”
- Wintley Phipps

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A battle in my mind

It was Day 29 of dedicated high praise. I woke up that Saturday morning with the same overflowing joy I had testified about in previous posts. My husband and I shared a period of praise and worship together. It was good. I was glad in my heart. It was going to be a busy day. We had a number of things scheduled and he set about them promptly. Between that time and coming out of the bathroom, I found myself in a strange place. Out of the blues, a suggestion dropped into my mind, I held to it and turned it around. Before I knew it had blown out of proportion. I felt I was on a stage, scenes were being suggested to me and it was building up. They were suggestions of offenses from different persons and I was building a response to them until I was in a full scale war mode with persons who had neither offended me nor committed any of the offenses playing on my mind. It was not long before the foul thoughts began to affect my mood. No one was spared, not my husband, not my son though neither of them was at home at this time.

By the time my husband who had gone to shop for us returned, I was moody and cranky. He excitedly displayed his purchases and was met with an arctic chill. All I did was find faults with them. He must have wondered what went wrong within the short time he was away from home that he quietly left me alone. At this point I had to ask myself aloud, “Irene, what is wrong with you?” Why was I unduly critical of my husband? When he came by me again, I apologised for being moody. I told him I was feeling a bit flustered with the multitude of things I had to do. But it wasn’t just that and as soon as I was alone again, the battle continued. When my son came back a short while later, I realised that I had in my mind misjudged his intention and reacted on the basis of the suggestion made to me.

It was at this time that I realised that I was at warfare in my mind. I was receiving wrong signals and allowing them to take root. It was draining me of my energy, both emotionally and physically. I continued to struggle with this for the rest of the day. I tried hard to focus my mind on what was right, pure, of good report and worthy of praise. When I got to church later that evening I knew I could not fully participate in the praise until I had confessed all the offenses that I allowed to take root in my heart and asked God to forgive me.

Reviewing the events of that day, I remembered what I read on Laura Kramer's blog of Oct. 26th: “revisiting the place you thought you were over” For a moment I was angry with myself. How could I have allowed the enemy to rob me of almost a whole day of joy on the basis of unreal events? How did I find myself again at this place? I had serious issues with battles in my mind in the past and by the grace of God I had overcome it or so I thought. Joyce Meyer's book: "Battlefield of the mind" was my most read book at that time after my Bible. Now do note that this is the same me who had testified of experiencing irrepressible joy over the past month. How could things change so suddenly to the extent of becoming unduly critical, fault finding and moody?

I shared these with my husband and he reminded me that it was a spiritual warfare - “We wrestle not against flesh and blood …..but against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph 6:12). When the enemy turned on the bad channel I need to consciously change the channel and keep changing it even when it appeared that it was automatically reverting to the bad channel. You do not actively change the channel by thinking on the Word; you do so by speaking the Word. Yes, you speak out the Word and let your ears hear the truth against the lies suggested by the enemy. With the benefit of hindsight I know I ought to have forcefully resisted the enemy and his suggestions (James 4:7a) because “the kingdom of God suffers violence and the violent takes it by force” (Matt 11:12). Anyone who wants to live a victorious life must stand resolute against the enemy.

The devil does not like a worshipper and he certainly was not happy with the high praise and worship I had engaged in or the ensuing joy. He came at me at a point I thought I had overcome and I was caught off guard. But he did not have the last word. No! I will be aggressive at dealing with this whenever it happens again. I am determined not to allow the root of offense to take hold in my heart. Imagine how often our relationships are soured because we allow offenses to take root in our mind even when they are unreal and pure lies. Imagine reacting to your spouse or the people around you on the basis of offenses they had not committed but had become so real howbeit only in our minds.

I promised myself that night that by the grace of God, I will cautiously guard my heart from every suggestion of the enemy. I will resist the enemy with the Word of God and will not allow him to steal my joy. I will actively guard my relationships from the suggestions and lies of the enemy.

Friends, those who would live a victorious life will not give up their hold on it but with fervent zeal hold on until they receive their victory.

Irene O.

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Resounding Appreciation Of God's Goodness

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music. Break out in praise and sing for joy. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, break forth into joyous songs and sing praises. Shout joyfully to the Lord. Make a loud noise. Exult and glorify the Lord. Send out a glad cry to the Lord. Make melody. Rejoice. Sing Psalms. Praise Him with songs.”- Ps 98:4
The above, compiled from different translations of Ps 98:4, depicts a breaking forth in joy that can not be confined, concealed or repressed. It is expressed in a loud shout of praise. It is an expression of a deliberate decision not to hold back the praise due to God. As water ebulliates at boiling point, so joy bubbles up and burst out in a loud praise and thanksgiving. It encourages us to sing with vigor, with all our strength from a heart that is full of joy and happiness.
The call to shout to the Lord with a loud praise is expressed in several verses of the Bible: Shout aloud. Shout for joy. Shout with joy. Sing a new song. Play skillfully. Burst into songs of joy. Let the sound of His praise be heard. See Ps 66:8, 100:1, Is 44:23 and 52:9. Ps 47:1 added another dimension as it calls us to “Clap our hands. Shout to God with cries of joy”. This is not silent praise at all. It is loud, it is heard, it is jubilant and it is with joyful gladness.
This was the call of the Psalmist to all the earth and indeed, the call of God to my heart last month: to extend my voice of praise to the highest pitch and to heap praise and adoration on Him in a loud voice.
At the beginning of October I was led to do something different in my fellowship with God during the month. I decided that I will not conceal His praise within my heart but with a loud voice I will offer praise to God. I was led to carve out a time each day to lift up my voice in high praise, singing brand new songs of praise, hymns and choruses.  I have truly experienced the presence of God during this extended period of exultant and loud praise everyday of October. Amazingly, I found myself singing at a pitch I had not been able to do for a very long time. I simply did not have enough breathe to do so. But the Giver of life and breath gave life and breath to my lungs and restored to me the capacity to sing. The result has been an overwhelming and irrepressible joy, and sweet refreshing restoration to which I continue to testify in different spheres of my life. It has been a month of exhilarating joy dwelling in His presence through exultant praise. In His presence, the Bible says there is fullness of joy and pleasure for ever.

Sometimes we may have to give a sacrificial praise or praise God in advance of what we are waiting on Him for. It is a sacrifice of praise irrespective of whatever else that may be going on around us. Overflowing with joy is simply an act of faith at such times when there are boisterous storm whirling around us. It was a choice that despite some bad news that I will still remain joyful. The devil didn't give me this joy, so he can't take it from me. I was not giving it up to him! I will rejoice in God and be glad. I will give thanks and glory to God for His many acts of wonder in my life. He that is capable of deep and reflective thinking will have a grateful heart.
I have so much to be thankful for. I have been blessed. During the month, I had the strength to minister in songs in church, which I had not been able to do for over a year. Twice I drove my car and went to the shop unaccompanied. A feat that was impossible the previous month.  I had strength restored enough for me to drive, to walk in the garden and go up the staircase without stopping to catch my breath. Oh I count my blessings! I am amazed how much God has given me the grace to do over the past month.
When God is lifted up in exultant and jubilant shout of praise, walls of limitations will hear and will come tumbling down. Giants mocking you will hear and fall flat. Shackles holding you bound will be shattered. Yokes and burdens will be lifted. The children of Israel, David, Paul and Silas can all testify of this and so can I!
Deliberately taking note of God’s many acts of kindness and wonderful works in our lives and praising Him for them is a choice we all must make. It is so much easier to focus on the things we are yet to have and the things we desire that we forget to pay attention to the so many blessings we receive each day.
Will you and your spouse carve out time to experience the presence of God together as you engage in a period of loud praise? What wonderful joy shall burst forth in your lives as you do so and with it God shall bring restoration, newness and freshness into your lives and into your marriage? I am pleased to share with you this rich song of praise by John Mason. Spiritual Song. 1683.
“I’ve found the Pearl of greatest price,
My heart doth sing for joy;
And sing I must, for Christ is mine;
Christ shall my song employ.”
This post was shared by email last Friday. I am posting it to provide a background for the next post.

Irene O.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Stepping out in faith

Welcome to "Enriching Lives. Inspiring Hope."

Shortly after I came to know Christ as my Lord, I was given an assurance in my heart that every event in my life will be used of God to fulfill His ultimate purpose for me and in the lives of those who He brings across my path. Truly, I have experienced God as the One “who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from Him” (2Cor1:4) NIV. I have a story to tell of the goodness of God in my life.

I worked for 15 years as Nutrition Specialist with the UN promoting the nutritional status of women and children. A job I did with passion in 3 countries which provided me with enormous opportunities to touch lives in a unique way through training, advocacy and mobilizing support at different levels. Along side with my professional vocation, I have had the privilege of mentoring couples and young ladies, and providing premarital counseling. I have also had to live with a thorn in my flesh in form of a respiratory condition that escalated in 2007 which required that I be on continuous supplementary oxygen. As a result of the restriction on my physical activities, I had to stop working and stay at home.

My story chronicles the many victories God has given me while waiting for the perfection of my healing. For many years my husband and friends have nudged me to take the step of faith in sharing my story with a wider audience and let God use the same comfort with which He has comforted me to comfort others. This has been particularly resonant in the last few months since I started sharing inspirational articles by email to enrich lives, relationships and marriages, and encourage hope in those faced with life's challenging situations. This Blog is in part a response to that call.

I am a firm believer that applying the truth of God’s words will make Christian marriages strong, vibrant and full of joy, just as God has designed it to be. I hope to share with you some insights to enrich your marriage. I pray that God will also use my story to inspire you to keep hope alive in whatever struggles you may be faced with.

God so often bring people into our lives who leave an indelible mark on us. They add value to our lives by portraying God’s love through their selfless service. I have been a recipient of such remarkable acts of love. In response, I asked God to make me a conduit of His blessings and for His life to flow through me to touch lives for good.

I desire to do the things the Lord has called me to do with passion, fullness of life and energy. I desire to serve the Lord with all my strength.  I can testify of the grace God has caused to abound to me to restore my life and strength. I refuse to give up on the prospect of living life to the full and to the overflowing. I hold on tenaciously to the hope of fulfilling my God-given potentials, dreams and vision.

It is my prayer that that this will be the beginning of a long relationship of mutually enriching each other's lives.

Irene O.

On June 2nd, 2013, the ventilator was switched off and the oxygen supplementation was stopped. For the first time after 6 years of continuous dependence on oxygen, I took a breath without external support and my saturation remained stable. Hallelujah, Praise be to God,