Soul-Care Articles: Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Biblically-based, Clinically-sound, Truth-oriented

Posts tagged ‘God’s goodness’

When God Does the Miracle We Didn’t Ask For

SOURCE:  Vaneetha Rendall Risner/Desiring God

Countless childhood surgeries. Yearlong stints in the hospital. Verbal and physical bullying from classmates. Multiple miscarriages as a young wife. The unexpected death of a child. A debilitating progressive disease. Riveting pain. Betrayal. A husband who leaves.

If it were up to me, I would have written my story differently. Not one of those phrases would be included. Each line represents something hard. Gut wrenching. Life changing.

But now, in retrospect, I wouldn’t erase a single line.

Honestly, it is only in hindsight that I can make such a bold statement. Through all of those devastating events, I begged God to deliver me. To save my baby, to reverse my disease, to bring my husband back. Each time God said no.

Instead of Deliverance

“It’s not about getting what I want. It’s about God giving me what I desperately need: himself.”

“No” was not the answer I wanted. I was looking for miraculous answers to prayer, a return to normalcy, relief from the pain. I wanted the kind of grace that would deliver me from my circumstances.

God, in his mercy, offered his sustaining grace.

At first, I rejected it as insufficient. I wanted deliverance. Not sustenance. I wanted the pain to stop, not to be held up through the pain. I was just like the children of Israel who rejoiced at God’s delivering grace in the parting of the Red Sea, but complained bitterly at his sustaining grace in the provision of manna.

With every heartache I wanted a Red Sea miracle. A miracle that would astonish the world, reward me for my faithfulness, make my life glorious. I didn’t want manna.

But God knew better. Each day he continued to put manna before me. At first, I grumbled. It seemed like second best. It wasn’t the feast I envisioned. It was bland and monotonous. But after a while, I began to taste the manna, embrace it, and savor its sweetness.

A Far Deeper Work

This manna, this sustaining grace, is what upheld me. It revived me when I was weak. It drove me to my knees. And unlike delivering grace which, once received, inadvertently moved me to greater independence from God, sustaining grace kept me tethered to him. I needed it every day. Like manna, it was new every morning.

“I have inexplicable joy not in my circumstances, but in the God who cares so fiercely for me.”

God has delivered me and answered some prayers with a resounding “yes” in jaw-dropping, supernatural ways. I look back at them with gratitude and awe. Yet after those prayers were answered, I went back to my everyday life, often less dependent on God. But the answers of “no” or “wait,” and those answered by imperceptible degrees over time, have done a far deeper work in my soul. They have kept me connected to the Giver and not his gifts. They have forced me to seek him. And in seeking him, I have discovered the intimacy of his fellowship.

In the midst of my deepest pain, in the darkness, God’s presence has been unmistakable. Through excruciating struggles, he speaks to me. He comforts me through his word. He whispers to me in the dark, as I lie awake on my tear-stained pillow. He sings beautiful songs over me of his love.

The Joy of His Manna

At first, I just want the agony to go away. I don’t rejoice in the moment. I don’t rejoice at all. But as I cling to God and his promises, he sustains me. Joy is at first elusive. I have glimpses of delight, but it is mostly slow and incremental.

Yet over time, I realize I have an inexplicable joy — not in my circumstances, but in the God who cares so fiercely for me. Eating the everyday, bland, sometimes unwelcome manna produces a joy beyond my wildest imaginings.

“In the midst of my deepest pain, in the darkness, God’s presence has been unmistakable.”

I have found that this joy, which is often birthed out of suffering, can never be taken away; it only gets richer over time. My circumstances cannot diminish it. It produces lasting fruit like endurance, character, and hope. It draws me to God in breathtaking ways. It achieves a weight of glory that is beyond all comparison.

I still pray earnestly for deliverance, for the many things I long to see changed, both in my life and in the world. That is right. It’s biblical. We need to bring our requests to God.

But as much as I long for deliverance, for delivering grace, I see the exquisite blessing in sustaining grace. It’s not about getting what I want; it’s about God giving me what I desperately need: himself.

God Doesn’t Have to Explain Himself

SOURCE:  Chuck Swindoll/Insight For Living

Psalm 139:1–6

Even in the midst of disappointment, surprise, and mystery, you will discover an amazing thing. You will discover how very reliable and trustworthy God is—and how secure you are in His hands. And oh, how we need that in this day of relativism and vacillation, filled with empty talk and hidden behind a lot of semantic footwork.

In the midst of “Spin City,” it is the Lord who talks straight. It is the Lord who has preserved Truth in black and white in His Word. And it is the Lord who has the right to do as He wishes around us, to us, and in us.

Puzzling as the process may be to us, He stays with His plan. There is no need for us to know all the reasons, and He certainly doesn’t need to explain Himself.

If we’re going to let God be God, then we’re forced to say He has the right to take us through whatever process He chooses.

Let Him have His way with your life, for nothing is worse than resisting and resenting the One who is at work in you.

 

Persevering through Pressure

Hebrews 6:18

Doubts often steal into our lives like termites into a house. These termite-like thoughts eat away at our faith. Usually, we can hold up pretty well under this attack. But occasionally, when a strong gale comes along—a sudden, intense blast—we discover we cannot cope. Our house begins to lean. For some people it completely collapses. It is during these stormy times, during the dark days and nights of tragedy and calamity, that we begin to feel the destructive effects of our doubts—running like stress fractures through the structure of our lives.

For me, there are three times when the intensity of doubt reaches maximum proportions.

One such time is when things I believe should never happen, occur. There are times when my loving, gracious, merciful, kind, good, sovereign God surprises me by saying yes to something I was convinced He would say no to. When bad things happen to good people.

I once received a letter from a woman who heard a talk I had given entitled “Riding Out the Storm.” Little did she know how meaningful it would be to her. Just as she was entering into the truth of that message, she arrived at home to discover that her young, recently married daughter had been brutally murdered.

Why did God say yes to that? Why did that bad thing happen to that good person? The effect of such termites within our soul is great. They eat away at us, and doubt wins a hearing.

Doubts also increase when things I believe should happen, never occur (the other side of the coin). When I expected God to say yes but He said no. Numerous parents of young men and women have said good-bye and sent their children away to war, convinced God would bring them home again. But sometimes He says no.

Joni Eareckson Tada (and a thousand like her) trust confidently for awhile that the paralysis will go away—that God will say, “Yes, I’ll get you through this. I’ll teach you some deep lessons, and then I will use you with full health in days to come as I heal you completely.” But God ultimately says no. When we expect Him to say yes and He says no, doubts multiply.

The third situation in which doubts grow takes place when things that I believe should happen now, occur much, much later. Of all the doubts which creep into our soul perhaps few are more devastating than those that happen when we are told by God, in effect. “Wait, wait, wait, wait . . . wait . . . wait!” All of us have wrestled greatly with His timing.

These “pressure points” provide a perfect introduction to the verses in Hebrews 6. This is that great chapter that begins with a strong warning, continues with words of affirmation, and closes with words of reassurance and ringing confidence. It addresses the Christian hanging on by his fingernails as he feels himself sliding down the hill. It shouts: “Persevere! Hang tough! Be strong! Don’t quit!” Even when God says no, and you expected yes. Even when He says yes, and you anticipated no. And especially when He says to wait, and you expected it now.

If you’re in that painful space right now, my word for you is: persevere! Hope in God—this is not the end.

Give Thanks… for CONFLICT?

SOURCE:  Taken from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 84-85.   

As usual, Paul [in Philippians 4:2-9] urges us to be God-centered in our approach to conflict.

Moreover, he wants us to be joyfully God-centered.

Realizing we may skip over this point, Paul repeats it: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” What on earth is there to rejoice about when you are involved in a dispute?

If you open your eyes and think about God’s lavish goodness to you, here is the kind of worship you could offer to him, even in the midst of the worst conflict!

O Lord, you are so amazingly good to me! You sent your only Son to die for my sins, including those I have committed in this conflict. Because of Jesus I am forgiven, and my name is written in the Book of Life! You do not treat me as I deserve, but you are patient, kind, gentle, and forgiving with me. Please help me to do the same to others.

In your great mercy, you are also kind to my opponent. Although he has wronged me repeatedly, you hold out your forgiveness to him as you do to me. Even if he and I never reconcile in this life, which I still hope we will, you have already done the work to reconcile us forever in heaven. This conflict is so insignificant compared to the wonderful hope we have in you!

This conflict is so small compared to the many other things you are watching over at this moment, yet you still want to walk beside me as I seek to resolve it. Why would you stoop down to pay such attention to me? It is too wonderful for me to understand. You are extravagant in your gifts to me. You offer me the comfort of your Spirit, the wisdom of your Word, and the support of your church. Forgive me for neglecting these powerful treasures until now, and help me to use them to please and honor you.

I rejoice that these same resources are available to my opponent. Please enable us to draw on them together so that we see our own sins, remember the gospel, find common ground in the light of your truth, come to one mind with you and each other, and restore peace and unity between us.

Finally, Lord, I rejoice that this conflict has not happened by accident. You are sovereign and good, so I know that you are working through this situation for your glory and my good. No matter what my opponent does, you are working to conform me to the likeness of your Son. Please help me cooperate with you in every possible way and give you glory for what you have done and are doing.

 

Seven Things the Bible Says About Evil

SOURCE:  Johnathon Bowers/Desiring God

How can we reconcile God’s sweeping control over creation with the existence of such horrors as cancer, famine, genocide, sexual abuse, tsunamis, and terrorism? Voltaire sums up the issue nicely in his “Poem on the Lisbon Disaster,” written after the devastating Lisbon earthquake of 1755:

Ill could not from a perfect being spring,
Nor from another, since God’s sovereign king.

His point is that since God is good, he can’t properly be the source of evil. Likewise, if God is all-powerful, no one else can thwart his intentions. So we’re stuck, it seems. Who’s to blame for the suffering we experience? Though we lack the space here for an extended discussion, let’s consider seven biblical affirmations.

1. Evil is real.

That is to say, we distort the Bible and do ourselves a profound disservice by minimizing the existence of suffering. God invites us to acknowledge our pain. The Psalmist wrote, “I believed, even when I spoke, ‘I am greatly afflicted'” (Psalm 116:10).

2. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

In some ways, talking about a “problem of evil” is a false start. A better quandary to start with would be the problem of sin. How quickly we rush to raise a self-righteous fist while our other hand digs in the cookie jar. “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?” (Ezekiel 18:25).

3. God is good.

Whatever we say about God’s sovereignty over evil (and say we will; see below), we must never imply that God is corrupt, that he somehow nurses a dark side. “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13).

4. God ordains all things that come to pass, including evil.

God does whatever he pleases (Psalm 135:6). To be sure, this means he clothes lilies and feeds birds (Matthew 6:26, 28). But he also makes lightning (Psalm 135:7). He strikes down firstborn children and kills mighty kings (Psalm 135:8). Our God holds sway over the good, the bad, and the ugly. “I form light and create darkness,” he says. “I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

5. Man is responsible for his actions.

Lest we fall into fatalism, we should remember that God’s sovereignty never excuses wrongdoing. When a man commits murder, the blood is on his hands. “For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” (Luke 22:22).

6. God did not spare his own Son.

The cross speaks to our theology of suffering in at least two ways. First, it shows us that God can will something to happen that he opposes. Proverbs 6:16-17 tells us that God hates “hands that shed innocent blood.” And yet he sent his Son to suffer precisely that fate. Is this a mystery? Absolutely. But it is not nonsense. We can look at evil and with no contradiction say, “This is wrong, and God has willed that it take place.” Listen to how Peter describes the crucifixion: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23, emphasis mine).

Second, the cross demonstrates that God regards our affliction not as something strange to the palette, but as a cup he has drunk to the dregs. By giving up his own Son, God entered into our pain. He knows what it’s like to suffer loss. But he also did more. By putting his Son to grief, God turned grief on its head. “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). This brings us to the final point.

7. Heaven works backwards.

C. S. Lewis writes in The Great Divorce, “They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”

Lewis is not being novel here. He is simply restating what Christians have hoped in for centuries, the promise that gives all our suffering purpose: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Johnathon Bowers is Instructor of Theology and Christian Worldview atBethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, MN.

God, You Are Soooo Stubborn!

SOURCE: James MacDonald

GOD’S RELENTLESS LOVE

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

—Psalm 23:6

Are you experiencing a season of defeat and discouragement?

At times like these, God can seem far off and distant from your life. But if you are one of His children—if you have turned from your sin and embraced Christ by faith as the only basis for your forgiveness—you have this Psalm 23 promise in your pocket:

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”

Look at the two key words in this phrase.

Goodness means bounty or blessing. Mercy can also be translated loving-kindnessfavor, or steadfast love. It comes from the Hebrew word hesed, used 246 times in the Old Testament. Half of those occurrences are found in the Book of Psalms.  Hesed was David’s favorite word to describe the attitude of God toward His children.

In Psalm 33:5, David observed, “The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.” In Psalm 86:13, “For great is your steadfast love toward me.” In Psalm 98:3, “He (the Lord) has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness.”

The loving-kindness of God—His goodness and mercy—is eternal. It’s persistent. It’s a stubborn love God has for His children. He won’t turn His back on us. And He won’t give up on us or let us go.

God’s hesed love brings Jonah to mind.

Jonah could run, but he couldn’t hide or get away from God. The Lord used a storm to get Jonah’s attention and a very large fish to transport Jonah back to the shore where he had made his wrong turn. Even the hardship of Jonah’s experience was God’s loving-kindness. He could have wiped out the wayward prophet in a heartbeat. But, determined to show His loving-kindness to the huge city of Nineveh through Jonah, God kept him alive.

Likewise, God is relentless in His pursuit of you.

No matter what choice you make or where you go, He will come after you. God has a plan for your life, and He will go to great lengths to complete the work He has begun (Philippians 1:6).

If you have become a follower of Jesus Christ, God is all over you and your situation. He is pursuing you—relentlessly.

That’s the meaning of the phrase, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.”

It also means your very best days are ahead. As a child of God, it doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done—your greatest days of usefulness and service to His kingdom can be in the future, followed always by His goodness and mercy!

The Explanation For Our Difficulties

SOURCE:  Oswald Chambers

. . . that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us . . .John 17:21

If you are going through a time of isolation, seemingly all alone, read John 17 .

It will explain exactly why you are where you are— because Jesus has prayed that you “may be one” with the Father as He is. Are you helping God to answer that prayer, or do you have some other goal for your life? Since you became a disciple, you cannot be as independent as you used to be.

God reveals in John 17 that His purpose is not just to answer our prayers, but that through prayer we might come to discern His mind. Yet there is one prayer which God must answer, and that is the prayer of Jesus— “. . . that they may be one just as We are one . . .” (John 17:22).

Are we as close to Jesus Christ as that?

God is not concerned about our plans; He doesn’t ask, “Do you want to go through this loss of a loved one, this difficulty, or this defeat?” No, He allows these things for His own purpose. The things we are going through are either making us sweeter, better, and nobler men and women, or they are making us more critical and fault-finding, and more insistent on our own way.

The things that happen either make us evil, or they make us more saintly, depending entirely on our relationship with God and its level of intimacy. If we will pray, regarding our own lives, “Your will be done” (Matthew 26:42), then we will be encouraged and comforted by John 17, knowing that our Father is working according to His own wisdom, accomplishing what is best. When we understand God’s purpose, we will not become small-minded and cynical. Jesus prayed nothing less for us than absolute oneness with Himself, just as He was one with the Father.

Some of us are far from this oneness; yet God will not leave us alone until we are one with Him— because Jesus prayed, “. . . that they all may be one . . . .”

Why does God allow bad things?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

“Who sinned, this man or his parents?” the disciples asked Jesus when they saw a man who had been blind his entire life (John 9:1). They wanted to know why God allowed this terrible affliction.

This is the same thought Job’s friends had when they saw Job suffering through the loss of his children, his prosperity, and his health. “Job what did you do?” How have you sinned?” You must have angered God in some way,” they echoed.

As a counselor and coach, I find people ask God the why question when they face the big difficulties of life like blindness, a rebellious child or the death of a marriage. But they also ask God why with the minor irritants of daily life like when they burn dinner just before company arrives or they can’t find their car keys or cell phone when they have an important appointment to keep. We want to know why God? Why this? Why now?

We all want to understand why bad, inconvenient, or troublesome things happen to people don’t’ we? If we could know why, then maybe we can change or do something to prevent those bad things from happening to us.

Jesus answered his disciples’ question by telling them it’s not about who sinned. We’re all sinners. Rather, he told his disciples that in this situation, the man was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

At first glance, Jesus’ answer sounds unfair, harsh. Why was this man singled out for affliction so God could display his power? No one would willingly sign up for that. You’re right, and it’s good God doesn’t ask our permission because most of us would say “No thanks.”

One of the most influential women in my life has been Joni Eareckson Tada, who was paralyzed in a diving accident when she was only 17 years old. I have followed her story, read her books and listened to her speak since I was in college over 30 years ago.

God uses Joni’s life to show me, as well as thousands of others, the reality of Christ’s mercy, love, and grace. It’s not too hard to praise God when everything in your life is going well. It’s another story to continue to praise God and give him thanks when your life falls apart. That gets people’s attention, and they sit up and take notice. What is the secret to this person’s joy and peace? It’s not natural. That’s right. It’s God.

There are only certain individuals whom God trusts with such deep suffering. Joni is one of them. Charles Haddon Spurgeon was another. Spurgeon, a renowned preacher, prolific author and beloved pastor during the 1800s, battled depression throughout his life. He was refreshingly honest with his struggle and never pretended he didn’t feel what he felt. Yet he always found hope in looking for God’s purposes in it. He wrote,

“Any fool can sing in the day. When the cup is full, man draws

inspiration from it; when wealth rolls in abundance around him

any man can sing to the praise of a God who gives a plenteous

harvest…It is not natural to sing in trouble…Songs in the night

come only from God; they are not in the power of man.”

Perhaps you are one like Joni or Spurgeon, whom God trusts with his severe mercy. If so, our world desperately needs to see Jesus in you.

For the rest of us, how might God want his works to be displayed in us in the midst of our inconvenience or daily disappointments? When we’re aggravated waiting in a long line with a clerk who isn’t moving fast enough for us, how might we move beyond thinking only about how we feel or what we’re not able to do and, in that moment, express the fruit of the spirit like love, or patience or self-control?

Do you think that God might also arrange or allow the minor afflictions of life so that the works of God might be displayed in us to a world so desperate to see him?

I Just Don’t Know What God Is Going To Do Next !

SOURCE:  Oswald Chambers

Gracious Uncertainty

. . . it has not yet been revealed what we shall be . . .1 John 3:2

Our natural inclination is to be so precise—trying always to forecast accurately what will happen next—that we look upon uncertainty as a bad thing.

We think that we must reach some predetermined goal, but that is not the nature of the spiritual life. The nature of the spiritual life is that we are certain in our uncertainty. Consequently, we do not put down roots. Our common sense says, “Well, what if I were in that circumstance?” We cannot presume to see ourselves in any circumstance in which we have never been.

Certainty is the mark of the commonsense life—gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life.

To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, not knowing what tomorrow may bring. This is generally expressed with a sigh of sadness, but it should be an expression of breathless expectation.

We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. As soon as we abandon ourselves to God and do the task He has placed closest to us, He begins to fill our lives with surprises. When we become simply a promoter or a defender of a particular belief, something within us dies. That is not believing God—it is only believing our belief about Him.

Jesus said, “. . . unless you . . . become as little children . . .” (Matthew 18:3).

The spiritual life is the life of a child. We are not uncertain of God, just uncertain of what He is going to do next. If our certainty is only in our beliefs, we develop a sense of self-righteousness, become overly critical, and are limited by the view that our beliefs are complete and settled. But when we have the right relationship with God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy. Jesus said, “. . . believe also in Me” (John 14:1), not, “Believe certain things about Me.”

Leave everything to Him and it will be gloriously and graciously uncertain how He will come in—but you can be certain that He will come. Remain faithful to Him.

9 Reasons You Can Face Anything

SOURCE:   Jonathan Parnell/Desiring God

God’s sovereignty is a precious reality.

Now chances are this truth didn’t seem too precious when it first confronted you. The natural, fallen response to hearing we aren’t the ones in control is to white-knuckle our will and refuse to bow. Humans tend to like the idea that we are the captains of our own destinies. Motivational glib like that will pack out self-help seminars. But sooner or later, and hopefully sooner, we learn how bankrupt it all is. We are not in charge, and that’s a good thing.

Any peace and hope we have in our lives right now can be traced back to the fact that God alone is God, that he is the sovereign power behind everything. And this has future-creating wonder. God’s sovereignty, John Piper explains, is not mainly a theological problem with the past, but an invincible hope for tomorrow.

God’s sovereignty means the good he intends for his children will not be deterred. This means we can face anything. All his promises to us will be fulfilled. Pastor John lists nine such promises.

By the blood of his Son, God has promised infallibly…

  1. I will meet all your needs according to my riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
  2. My power will be made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
  3. I will strengthen you and help you and hold you up with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).
  4. I will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).
  5. I will not let any testing befall you for which I do not give you grace to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).
  6. I will take the sting away from your death with the blood of my son (1 Corinthians 15:55f).
  7. I will raise you from the dead imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:52).
  8. I will transform your lowly body to be like my glorious body, by the power that enables me even to subject all things to myself (Philippians 3:21).
  9. I will do this without fail because I am absolutely sovereign over everything and therefore, I can do all things, and no purpose of mine can be thwarted (Job 42:2).

This list is adapted from the sermon When Jesus Meets Disability.

Raw Praying: A Prayer for the Spiritually Disconnected and Distressed

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith/The Gospel Coalition

 O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. (Jer. 20:7) Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow and spend my days in shame? (Jer. 20:18)

Gracious Father, this is some pretty raw praying by one of your called and beloved prophets. Jeremiah’s lament makes me thankful today for the freedom you give us to bring our unfiltered and unfettered feelings to you. If we don’t bring our painful emotions to you, we will take them somewhere. Somebody besides ourselves will feel the brunt of our anguish and anger, disconnect and disillusionment.

Father, only you have the big enough heart and broad enough shoulders to walk with us through our seasons of chaos and confusion. I praise you for your constant, compassionate welcome. If you’re not put off by Jeremiah’s struggle, surely you will take on ours.

It’s comforting to know that the same prophet who assured others of your gracious promise and good plan—a plan for prosperity, not harm (Jer. 29:11); the same prophet who gave us a vision of the glory and the grace of the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34); this same prophet, like us, experienced seasons in which he felt deceived, betrayed, and abandoned—even regretting the day he was born. We’re all weak and broken. We all need the gospel of your grace, every single day.

This gives me courage as I seek to steward my own feelings. But today it gives me compassion as I pray for a few friends who are feeling exactly what Jeremiah felt. For the friend I sat with yesterday who’s feeling set up, chewed up, and spit out by you, bring the gospel to bear. She loves you, but she feels abandoned by you. She knows better, but she feels bitter. My instinct is to “fix her,” but the way of the gospel is to listen and love before launching. Give me patience and kindness as I trust you to restore her to gospel sanity.

For my friend whose spiritual melancholia is heading to an even darker place, Father, give me wisdom. What part of his struggle is purely physical? What’s, to some degree, demonic? What’s just plane ole’ pity party? I can’t tell, but I trust you to love him through me and to give me the grace I need to walk with him. Help me, Father, and heal my friends. Meet them as you met Jeremiah. So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ strong and loving name.

When Jesus Makes You Wait in Pain

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

The reason there was a “Palm Sunday” was because Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 12:17–18). It was perhaps the most powerful, hope-giving miracle Jesus ever performed during his pre-cross ministry; the capstone sign of who he was (John 5:21–25).

That’s why the Apostle John wrote, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (John 11:5–6).

The word “so” connecting those two sentences is stunning. The most loving thing Jesus could do at that moment was to let Lazarus die. But it didn’t look or feel like love to Martha.


“Martha, the Teacher has come. He’s near the village.”

Martha’s emotions collided. Just hearing that Jesus was near resuscitated hope in her soul — the same hope she had felt the day she sent word for him to come.

But it was quickly smothered with grief and disappointment. Lazarus had died four days earlier. She had prayed desperately that Jesus would come in time. God had not answered her prayers. What could Jesus do now?

And yet… if anyone could do something, Jesus could. He had the words of eternal life (John 6:68). Martha hurried out.

When she saw Jesus, she could not restrain her grief and love. She collapsed at his feet and sobbed, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Jesus laid his hand on her head.

He had come to Bethany to destroy the devil’s works (1 John 3:8) in Lazarus. He had come to give death a taste of its coming final defeat (1 Corinthians 15:26). He had come to show that now was the time when the dead would hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who heard would live (John 5:25).

Martha did not know all this. Neither did she know that what was about to happen would hasten Jesus’ own death—a death that would purchase her resurrection and both of Lazarus’s. She didn’t know how this weighed on him, how great was his distress until it was accomplished (Luke 12:50).

But Jesus’ wordless kindness soothed her.

When Martha’s sorrowful convulsion had passed she said, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

Jesus gently lifted Martha’s eyes and looked at her with affectionate intensity. “Your brother will rise again.”

His living words revived her hope. Could he mean…? No. She dared not let herself hope in that way. Not after four days.

“I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Yes. Lazarus would rise again on the last day. Martha had no idea how deeply Jesus longed for that day. But Jesus meant more than that.

He replied, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

The power with which Jesus spoke caused faith to swell in Martha’s soul. She wasn’t sure what this all meant, but as he spoke it was as if death itself was being swallowed up (1 Corinthians 15:54). No one ever spoke like this man (John 7:46).

She answered, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”


We know how this story from John chapter eleven ends. But in the horrible days of Lazarus’s agonizing illness and in the dark misery of the days following his death, Martha did not know what God was doing. He seemed silent and unresponsive. Jesus didn’t come. It’s likely that she knew word had reached him. She was confused, disappointed, and overwhelmed with grief.

And yet, Jesus delayed precisely because he loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus. He knew that Lazarus’s death and resurrection would give maximum glory to God and his friends would all experience maximum joy in that glory. It would make all their suffering seem light and momentary (2 Corinthians 4:17).

When Jesus makes a trusting saint wait in pain, his reasons are only love. God only ordains his child’s deep disappointment and profound suffering in order to give him or her far greater joy in the glory he is preparing to reveal (Romans 8:18).

Before we know what Jesus is doing, circumstances can look all wrong. And we are tempted to interpret God’s apparent inaction as unloving, when in fact God is loving us in the most profound way he possibly can.

So in your anguish of soul, hear Jesus ask with strong affection, “Do you believe this?”


Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) is the author of the forthcoming book Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith (April 30, 2013)

Healthy Relationship: Love for God & Fear of God

SOURCE:  D. A. Carson/Gospel Coalition/For the Love of God

[Based on:  1 Chronicles 24-25; 1 Peter 5; Micah 3; Luke 12]

JESUS TELLS HIS “FRIENDS” not to be afraid “of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him” (Luke 12:4-5).

The Gospel demands that we examine not only our loves, but our fears.

We are to love God above all others; so also are we to fear him above all others.

The reason is the same in both cases: he is God. He deserves our passionate adoration; he is not to be trifled with. His untrammeled holiness evokes our awe; it also evokes our fear. We should love him now, and we will love him without reserve in the new heaven and the new earth; we should fear him, for he has both the power and the right to exclude us from the new heaven and the new earth.

People sometimes say, unthinkingly, that it is a great blessing that so-and-so has died, for he or she was in such great pain during the last days or weeks of life on this earth. But supposing the person was an unrepentant reprobate: is he or she better off now? Not according to this passage.

Again, how many of our decisions in life are shaped in part by what people think or, more precisely, by what we fear they will think? In short, we are often afraid of people—if not afraid of brutal attack, then afraid of condescension, afraid of rejection, afraid of being marginalized, afraid of being laughed at.

There is very little possibility of overcoming such fear by merely trying to stop fearing. We need to fear something else more, something that will make the fear of people not only wrong but silly. If we absorb the words of these two verses, and fear God above all, the problem will largely be resolved. That is one of the reasons why it is so important to know this God and to think much about him: you will never fear God if he rarely crosses the horizon of your thought.

Lest anyone should think for a moment that the Christian’s connection with Almighty God is characterized by nothing but fear, we must observe that even in this chapter Jesus tells his followers, “Do not be afraid, little flock”—of people, or circumstances, or the future—”for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

Although God is to be feared, the reason is not because he is the meanest dude of all. Far from it: his love and grace and holiness—all of his perfections—combine to provide the most glorious future possible for his own.

“In this world you will have trouble.”

SOURCE:  Taken from  The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 63.

Left Ahead

In this world you will have trouble.” John 16.33

The fact that God is good does not mean that he will insulate us from all suffering.

Rather, it means that he will be with us in our suffering and accomplish good through it (Isa. 43:2-3).

J.I. Packer writes, “We see that he leaves us in a world of sin to be tried, tested, belaboured by troubles that threaten to crush us–in order that we may glorify him by our patience under suffering, and in order that he may display the riches of his grace and call forth new praises from us as he constantly upholds and delivers us.”

Imagine this scenario: Jesus is ascending back to heaven as his disciples are looking on and he tells them, “I’ve got to go now. Hang in there, and best of luck.” Sound ludicrous? It would be almost impossible to continue following someone who left you like that. Even those of us who have blood type D (duty) would eventually need a transfusion of something; something to give us hope in this broken world. If that had been the case, then Jesus would have truly left us behind. But that’s not how the story goes.

He left us ahead; he told us what it was going to be like, no surprises (John, chapters 14-16):

  • The world will hate you.
  • They will persecute you.
  • They will put you out of the synagogue.
  • They will think that killing you is a service to God.

And he told us right where he would be:

  • I will be with you.

As we suffer conflicts, insults, and other hardships, we must remember that Christ is our Emmanuel–God with us!

We press on through those valleys of the shadow of death, but we don’t press on alone; no, we have the presence of the living Christ guiding, encouraging, refining, strengthening, and protecting us all along the way. And as our faith matures, God does more and more of what God loves to do–display the riches of his grace and call forth new praises from us as he constantly upholds and delivers us.

Is God Good?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

There was a time in my life when I didn’t believe God was good.

Like Jeremiah, in Lamentations 3, I accused him of being deceptive, capricious and unloving. I thought he was going to give me one of the deepest desires of my heart, and then suddenly it was snatched away. My heart fell into a deep pit, and it took a long time to climb back out.

How about you? Have you ever doubted the goodness of God?

We sing it, we say it, we know it, but truth be told, much of the time we don’t really believe it.

Most of us would acknowledge that we struggle trusting in God’s goodness during times of suffering. But it’s equally important to grasp that many times we don’t trust and obey God simply because we think we know better and want to be in charge of our own lives. Eve doubted God’s goodness even in the midst of paradise.

Things in life are not always what they initially appear to be. What looks good to us often turns out to be bad, and what feels bad to us can turn out to be good. As a child, I loved eating candy. It definitely tasted much better than meat or vegetables or even french fries and fruit. I ate so much candy my teeth decayed.

Going to the dentist felt bad, so I never wanted to go nor would I have chosen to. Thankfully my father saw beyond my foolishness and made me eat healthier and get my teeth fixed. It was good. Now that I’m grown up, I can see that, but at the time, I didn’t understand. I just thought my father was being mean.

In the same way, many times we can look back over the worst of times and see that they were also some of the best times of God’s goodness toward us. We see his provisions or experience his presence in deeper ways. From the vantage of history, we see that what we thought was bad, God used for good. In the Old Testament, Joseph was able to keep his peace and hope alive in the mist of circumstantial hardship because he knew that God’s purposes were always good (Genesis 50:20).

King David trusted in the goodness of God so completely that when God gave him a choice of what consequence he wanted for his sin, David told God to pick whatever he deemed best (2 Samuel 24:10-14).

Jesus knows this world is full of temptations, trials and hardships. Throughout the four Gospels, Jesus repeatedly tells people that he is telling them the truth, that God knows best what we need. Yet what they heard from Jesus was so different than their own way of thinking and believing that for many, it wasn’t easy to recognize it as truth even when they wanted to.

The father whose son was demon possessed begged Jesus, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24 NLT). Belief and unbelief isn’t either/or, it’s both/and. We believe and we doubt. But the more we believe, the more we can trust. Richard Rohr says, “The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s anxiety.”

What did Jesus tell those who asked what they must do to do the work of God? He said the work of God is to believe (John 6:28-29). Once we believe, trust follows.

To help you get started, slowly meditate on this verse, word by word: “O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for you help” (Psalm 86:4,5 NLT).

In closing, take a few moments to ask yourself and answer the following questions:

How have you struggled believing God’s goodness?

Where do you not believe him?

How does your unbelief cause anxiety, guilt, or other happiness-robbers in your life?

How would you live differently if you believed with all of your heart that God is good?

Dear Lord, help my friends believe you in good times and in hard times. Help them trust that you are always good even when they don’t understand or it feels bad. Give them eyes to see that you are full of love and eager to forgive all their sins, all the time. Amen.

 

When God Pulls the Rug Out

SOURCE:  Ed Welch/CCEF

Has this happened to you?

You read all the signs that were so blatantly from the Lord—“yes, this is the path, go this way, I am with you.”

You have been amazed at the way he opened doors—you were scared but you walked through them.

The Lord confirmed his will for you through other people too—they were excited that God was doing this.

Finally, you were on board. You were excited. You were all in. You had peace about your decision.

And then, splat, he pulled the rug out from under you.

How will you be able to trust God again?

This, I think, is a common experience. Very common. It happens with all kinds of decisions: business, vocational, financial and relationships. You pray earnestly, you see God moving, you are amazed, and then…  it looks as if he simply vanished and left you on your own. You especially see it in broken relationships. That is, you seek the Lord about a marriage or relationship decision, it starts almost too well, and then the relationship takes a sudden and tragic turn, and there is no explanation for it.

You want to know why

Some problems are universal, but this one is for those who are spiritually mature. It happens to people who are earnestly seeking God, and only the mature do such things. And though anger toward God might flash occasionally, it isn’t the real issue. The real problem is that you feel you no longer know him. You want to know why God did this, yet he is silent. It doesn’t make sense: he gives with one hand and takes away with the other.

“Why?”

When no response comes, you start filling in the blanks. Maybe you deserved it. Maybe you have done wrong and you need to figure out what it is. That’s what maturity gets you; you see yourself as the culprit. This approach is understandable and—misguided.

Not a scavenger hunt for sin

“Why, O Lord?” is a recurring question in Scripture. In response, God does not send anyone on a scavenger hunt for sin, and does not fill in all the details that the asker might want to know either. Instead, he reaffirms that he does see trouble and grief (Ps. 10:14), and he will strengthen those who are weak (Is. 40:27-31). With these words he is revealing to us what we really need to know.

Check your assumptions

But there is another matter to consider.

All this started with our assumptions about how God works—we had confidence that we could know the will of God. We could discern the “open doors” and had that “peace.” Even more, we were confident that those open doors would lead to blessing, according to our definition of blessing. Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate.

The Apostle Paul held very different assumptions yet he believed that he knew plenty about God’s will. The King reigns, the Spirit has been poured out, the nations are ripe for the picking—that was enough for him. The times he received specific direction, he was confident that it would mean blessing for the larger church and hardships for him. He knew that if God was in it there would be challenges—challenges that reveal weaknesses and test faith.

God is not playing games when he pulls the rug out from under you. He is up to something, but it is probably not what you think it is.

YOU are NOT the GOD I would have chosen!

SOURCE:  Michael Card

God’s Disturbing Faithfulness

What in the world is God up to?

“You are not the God we would have chosen,” Walter Brueggemann prays in his book Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth.

That troubling prayer resonates in my heart. For the truth is, most often I would have chosen (and indeed do choose) a god other than Him.

Most often, I would rather not learn the hard lessons the hard way. I would rather not have to worship in the wilderness, where God continuously calls me to find and be found by Him. I would rather God simply meet my expectations, fix my problems, heal my hurts, and be on His way.

I want a God who is faithful to me in ways I understand and expect, who expresses faithfulness in the ways I choose.

The good news is, there is such a god. In fact, there are many of them. Constructed of small snippets of Bible verses, glued together with human reason and need, these gods always move in expected ways, according to the given formula. Their faithfulness always feels good. It almost always ends in bankable results. That is the good news. The bad news? None of them represent the God of the Bible.

This is faithfulness?

The faithfulness of God is celebrated throughout the Bible, especially in Psalms. It is one of the psalmists’ favorite reasons for praising Him (36:5; 71:22; 86:15; 89:1-2, 5, 8; 100:5; 138:2). And why not praise God for His faithfulness? When we think of all the wonderful promises He has made and realize that because of His perfect faithfulness He will perfectly keep each and every one, how glorious! Who wouldn’t want to give their lives to such a God as this? Who would not choose Him to be their God?

Yet as we enter more deeply into a relationship with the God of Scripture, we increasingly discover—to our great annoyance—that, despite the reports to the contrary, most often God refuses to act in simple, easily understandable ways that coincide with our definition of what His faithfulness should look like.

We ask Him to be faithful by answering all our prayers for healing. Isn’t Ps. 103:3 crystal clear? He “heals all your diseases,” it says (emphasis mine). So we beg and plead, and yet the cancer rate among Christians remains virtually the same as among those outside the faith. We respectfully request financial help; after all, Phil. 4:19 explicitly promises that “God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (emphasis mine). When the looked-for check does not appear, what are we to think? Either God is not being faithful to His promise (unthinkable!) or else we do not understand what that faithfulness means.

So what is the missing piece of the puzzle? What is God’s faithfulness supposed to look like?

This is surely the question that troubled Job.

The religious world he inhabited believed God’s faithfulness should look like doing, fixing, judging (even cursing), answering, healing, and ultimately providing. That, at least, was the point of view of Job’s friends. In return for their works-righteousness, they believed that God was obliged to make things right for His people.

Yet Job, whom God Himself declared righteous, is beset with every sort of suffering and loss. A thousand years or more before the man of sorrows, Job became acquainted with all our grief. In return for his righteousness, Job received unimaginable suffering. Where was God’s faithfulness? Had He forgotten His promises? Was He hiding? Was He asleep? As I spend more and more time in the book of Job, I begin to wonder if the deepest source of Job’s pain was not the murdered children or his wrecked health, but rather the terrifying prospect that the true God might indeed be nothing like the god of his old definition.

In Job’s world, God was a question-answering god who faithfully provided wisdom. Yet when the God of Job finally appears, He only asks more questions. How disappointing for Job’s friends. The God of Job clearly has more in mind than meting out justice. His faithfulness is expressed in a way that no one could ever have imagined: He showed up! Nothing could have been more disturbing for the lot of them.

“My ears had heard of you,” stammers Job, “but now my eyes have seen you” (42:5).

A God whose faithfulness is more a matter of presence than provision. A God whose faithfulness is made visible simply by showing up . . . sound familiar?

Faithfulness Incarnate

In His own time, as well as ours, many who came close to Jesus were disappointed by His disturbing revelation of the faithfulness of God.

There were those who wanted Jesus to judge and condemn. In John 8, the scribes and Pharisees hounded Jesus for a judgment against an adulterous woman. If Jesus were to be faithful to their notion of God and the law, they reasoned, He had no other choice but to pronounce her fate. After all, she was caught in the act.

Others wanted healing, and certainly Jesus healed people by the thousands. But faithfulness for Jesus didn’t always look like healing. In John 11, after hearing of the life-threatening illness of one of His closest friends, Jesus appears to loiter for two more frustrating days. As a result, Lazarus dies. Martha and Mary appear with the same disappointed accusation on their lips (though I believe in different tones of voice). “If you had only been here, he would not have died,” they both say. If only . . . you had fixed things, healed him, answered our prayers the way we wanted them answered.

But, like His Father, Jesus has come to show us that God is faithful to us in ways we never could have dreamed. Jesus refuses to condemn the woman caught in adultery because, as Frederick Buechner once said, He knew He would be condemned for her (Jn. 3:17, Ro. 8:1). “I pass judgment on no one,” Jesus will say to His critics (Jn. 8:15). Later, in the face of His hearers’ disbelief, He will declare, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save it” (Jn. 12:47). The disturbing faithfulness of Jesus does not look like condemnation. Instead He showed up to save!

And before Jesus moves on to the tomb of his friend Lazarus to call forth the “dead man” from the grave, He enacts what most of us never regard as a miracle. But it may be the most miraculous miracle of the whole story. The miracle? Jesus wept.

He showed up and entered fully and painfully into the suffering of His friends. Moments later He would indeed provide the resurrection miracle none of them could even have imagined asking for. Yet Lazarus would eventually die once more, wouldn’t he? Death would remain a reality, even as it is for us today. But what had changed forever was the image of the face of faithfulness. Not judgmental; not with anger in its eyes but rather a tear. God incarnate enfleshed and gave form to faithfulness.

Faithfulness was Jesus fully present.

Present in their redemption and ours.

Present in their suffering and ours.

Present in their loneliness and ours.

Acquainted with their griefs and ours.

This was a faithfulness no one expected—so deeply personal, so fully satisfying. Jesus didn’t always faithfully give people answers or healing or judgments, but He did give them Himself.

The Promise of Presence

Who is God for you? What do you think His faithfulness should look like? Is He a predictable theological entity, frozen on the throne? Is your greatest hope for Him that He might appear someday and pass judgment on your enemies? Or could He possibly, unimaginably, be the God we meet in Job who descends from the throne room where He has been dealing with the accusations of Satan, the God who shows up, having been moved by Job’s tears.

Who is Jesus for you? How is faithfulness written on His face for you? Is He merely a caricature walking three inches off the ground? Or might He impossibly be the very image of the God whose disturbing faithfulness looks like simply showing up to make His name “Immanuel” true in the fullest way it could ever be true. Could it be that the best show of faithfulness is not the healing or the unexpected check that saves from bankruptcy, but the unthinkable truth that God has chosen to be “with us” through it all? Could it be that the miracle is not provision, but presence?

Faithfulness most resembles the God who showed up and, in the process, became acquainted with all our sorrows. His promise of faithfulness is heard in His parting words, “Surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt. 28:20, emphasis mine). It is the best promise any bridegroom can possibly make to his bride.

In our frustration we cry out to the heavens. We shake our fists at the sky, demanding that God act, move, fix, heal. We insist that He be faithful according to our expectations of faithfulness. My mentor, Dr. William Lane, used to say,

We want the God of the magic wand. The God who makes the cancer go away. But more remarkably, He is the God who comes alongside us and suffers with us. He is the God who never leaves us.

Ask yourself, how did God Himself speak of His faithfulness? What are the words He most often used in both the Old and New Testaments to describe what it would look like? How about:

Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.

—see Dt. 31:6; Heb. 13:5

Now the dwelling of God is with men and women, and He will live with them.

—see Ex. 25:8; Rev. 21:3

No doubt I will go on forgetting all this and doggedly keep demanding God to provide.

I need money.

I need health.

I need happiness.

And when the sky remains silent I will likely fume at Him in frustration, “Where are You?” I will doubt Him and His promised presence with and in me because what I think should be His provision has not shown up on time.

And He will continue to pursue—passionately and patiently—my foolish, forgetful self.

If, like me, you find yourself disturbed by what sometimes appears to be a lack of faithfulness on God’s part—if you, too, are beginning to feel that He is not the God you would have chosen—then perhaps it is time to wonder if God is up to something else, something other than trying to become our pie-in-the-sky god.

Just maybe He is working a more miraculous miracle than we ever could have asked for or imagined. He, the God of the universe, has determined to do a work in (not for) us. Paul declares in Phil. 1:6 that He has promised to do this interior, spiritual work until He is finally finished, and that will be on the day Jesus shows up fully, finally, and completely, once and for all time.

Brueggemann is right.

This is not the God we would have chosen.

But neither could we have dreamed up nor imagined such a God: a God the immediacy of whose presence is incarnate in us by His indwelling Spirit, a God who is committed to the throes of completing this labor of indwelling us, of being born in and through us. It is His deepest desire. It is the greatest of all His wordless miracles.

He is not the God any of us would have chosen but, as Brueggemann marvelously concludes, He is the God who has chosen us.

———————————————————————————-

MICHAEL CARD is an award-winning musician, performing artist, and songwriter. His many songs include “El Shaddai” and “Immanuel.” He has also written numerous books, including A Violent Grace, The Parable of Joy, and A Fragile Stone. A graduate of Western Kentucky University with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in biblical studies. Michael lives in Tennessee with his wife and four children.

What is Trust — Really?

SOURCE:  Taken from  The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 67

A Picture of Trust

Therefore we do not lose heart.” 2 Cor. 4:16

Trusting God proved to be the pattern in Paul’s life. Even when the Lord did not immediately relieve his sufferings, Paul continued to view everything that happened to him as God’s sovereign will (2 Cor. 4:17-18).

This doesn’t mean that Paul never had doubts or that he never asked God to relieve his suffering (2 Cor. 12:7-8). But when the Lord’s response did not match Paul’s request, he was willing to believe that God had something better in mind (vv. 9-10).

Food for Thought

Think of the last time the Lord’s response did not match your request.

What does trusting God look like?  [It]doesn’t mean wearing a painted on smile when troubles come and practicing the art of denial when doubts arise. Those verses in 2 Cor. 12 show the apostle Paul “pleading” for God to take the thorn in his flesh away.

So, then what does trusting God look like?  “But when the Lord’s response did not match Paul’s request, he was” — what’s that next word? That’s right –“willing.”

Trusting looks like a willingness to believe in God’s goodness toward us in the middle of pleadings and tears and sufferings and doubts and questions.

Trusting is choosing to believe that God desires the best for us, his children.

That’s not always easy, but as Paul would attest, it’s always worth it!

The Wisdom of God in Affliction

Source:  Thomas Watson as posted by Deejay O’Flaherty

The wisdom of God is seen in making the most desperate evils turn to the good of his children.

As several poisonous ingredients, wisely tempered by the skill of the artist, make a sovereign medicine, so God makes the most deadly afflictions co-operate for the good of his children.  He purifies them, and prepares them for heaven. 2 Cor 4:17.

These hard frosts hasten the spring flowers of glory.  The wise God, by a divine chemistry, turns afflictions into cordials.  He makes his people gainers by losses, and turns their crosses into blessings.

 
–Thomas Watson–Body of divinity pages 74-75 Banner of Truth edition

[Thomas Watson – (c. 1620—1686) was an English, Puritan preacher and author.]

All Trouble and Affliction Comes From God’s Hand (Part 2 of 2)

Source:  Bishop Myles Coverdale (written by Deejay O’Flaherty)

[Myles Coverdale  (c. 1488 –  1569) was a 16th-century Bible translator who produced the first complete printed translation of the Bible into English.]

———————————————————————————————–

And to speak properly concerning safeguard, it is all one, so that we tempt not God, whether we live in poverty or in riches, in the fire or in the water, among our enemies or among our friends, seeing that God seeth, knoweth, disposeth, and ruleth all things, as withesseth the first book of the Kings 2:1 “The Lord bringeth to death, and restoreth again unto life; bringeth into the grave, and raiseth up again; putteth down, and exalteth also.”

And Job also testifieth in his misery: “The Lord hath given it, and the Lord hath taken it again.” And Christ saith: “There falleth not a sparrow upon the earth without your Father’s will; yea, the hairs of your head are all numbered.” Luke 12.

Seeing then that all our troubles and afflictions come from God, we ought to humble and submit our hearts and minds unto the obedience of God, and to suffer him to work with us according unto his most holy will and pleasure.

Wherefore, whensoever unseasonable weather shall hurt and perish the corn and fruit of the earth, or when a wicked man shall misreport us, or raise up any slander of us, why should we murmur and grudge against the elements, or go about to revenge us of our enemies?

For if we lift not up our minds, and consider that God layeth his hand upon us, and that it is he that striketh us, we are even like unto dogs, and no better, which, if a man do cast a stone at them, will bite the stone, without any respect who did cast the stone. And again, no man ought to be unwilling or discontent to render again that talent or pledge that was committed to him only to reserve and keep. Matthew 25.

It is that God, that giveth us life, health of body, strength, wife, children, friends, riches, honor, power, authority, peace, rest, and quietness for a time, so long as pleaseth him. Now if the same God will take again some of these firings, or all, he taketh nothing but his own, and even that which we did owe unto him. For the which cause, to murmur against his will, and to strive against his judgment, it cannot be but a heinous and grievous sin.

Listen to Jesus’ Voice in the Storm

SOURCE:  Octavius Winslow/A Puritan At Heart

“Take courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.” Mark 6:50

Listen, then, to the voice of Jesus in the storm!

It is I who raised the tempest in your soul — and will control it.
It is I who sent your affliction — and will be with you in it.
It is I who kindled the furnace — and will watch the flames, and bring you through it.

It is I who formed your burden, who carved your cross — and who will strengthen you to bear it.
It is I who mixed your cup of grief — and will enable you to drink it with meek submission to your Father’s will.

It is I who took from you worldly substance, who bereft you of your child, of the wife of your bosom, of the husband of your youth — and will be infinitely better to you than husband, wife, or child.

It is I who has done it ALL!

I make the clouds My chariot, and clothe Myself with the tempest as with a garment. The night hour is My time of coming, and the dark, surging waves are the pavement upon which I walk.

Take courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.

It is I — your Friend, your Brother, your Savior! I am causing all the circumstances of your life to work together for your good.

It is I who permitted . . .
the enemy to assail you,
the slander to blast you,
the unkindness to wound you,
the need to press you!

Your affliction did not spring out of the ground, but came down from above — a heaven-sent blessing disguised as an angel of light, clad in a robe of ebony.
I have sent all in love!

This sickness is not unto death — but for the glory of God.
This bereavement shall not always bow you to the earth, nor drape in changeless gloom your life.

It is I who ordered, arranged, and controlled it all!

In every stormy wind,
in every darksome night,
in every lonesome hour,
in every rising fear,

— the voice of Jesus shall be heard, saying, “Take courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.”

—————————————————————————-

Octavius Winslow (1808 – 1878), also known as “The Pilgrim’s Companion”, stood out as one of the foremost evangelical preachers of the 19th Century in England and America.

“God—where were you?”

 SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by  Ed Welch/CCEF

“God, where were you?”

That’s the good version of the question, because you are still on speaking terms with the Lord.

But if this question is left unresolved, over time it becomes, “Where was God when __________ happened [I was raped, my child died, I was fired because of someone’s lies . . . ]?

You are no longer talking to God, you are now talking about him.

Later? Just silence. God, from your perspective, is no longer a player in everyday life.

For now I just want to raise this very difficult question, which is capable of stunting spiritual growth and corroding one’s faith in Jesus.  If it is your question, you must do something with it.

Here is a start.

What are you really asking?

Sometimes “where were you?” is not really what is on your heart.

When my daughter Lisa was little, she would have a predictable response when she was hurt.

“Daddy!” Or sometimes, “Daddy, why did you do that?” These are variations on, “where were you? Why didn’t you do something?” She probably did the same thing with her mother when I wasn’t around. Whoever was closest during the accident was, somehow, at fault.

Once she stubbed her toe while running after her sister. I was reading a book on the other side of the room.

Sure enough, “Daddy!”

In response I could have explained, “Lisa, I didn’t do it to you. You were playing with Lindsay and hit the sofa leg with you bare foot.” But my daughter didn’t really want an explanation of what happened. What she was really saying was this: “Daddy, please help me. I feel hurt and alone.”

All I needed to do was to pick her up, and say “Sweetie, I am so sorry,” which is not an admission of guilt but an offer of compassion. She was not really blaming me. She wanted comfort and the assurance that I cared about what happened to her.

So we could expand “Where were you?” to “God, why did you do this to me?” or “Why didn’t you prevent that evil from happening to me?” These questions belie deeper and usually more basic concerns about God’s love. His answer: “Yes, I know these things are hard to understand but I really do love you – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus proves that – and what hurts you hurts me.” Comfort and compassion.

What if it’s not a question; what if it’s a statement?

Are you actually asking God, “where were you?” or are you making a statement like “God was not there. He can’t be trusted. He isn’t safe.”

Sometimes these statements are expressed as anger towards God. When people speak about anger with God I want to understand what they are really saying before I try to respond. Real anger at God, I believe, is a rare and dangerous thing. Most people who mention such anger are not quite as angry with God as they think. They are just having a hard time putting words on their sufferings.

“Sometimes I hate God.” Maybe you do, but maybe you don’t. You might actually be saying, “I hate myself for letting this happen. Regarding God, I don’t know what to think. He says he loves me, but I don’t understand. It seems he wasn’t there when I needed him.”

What should we do about this?

There is much more to say.  Here are the first steps.

1. Speak to the Lord, not just about him.
2. Recognize that behind your bluster and sometimes lame attempts at acting angry are childlike questions about God’s love and care.
3. Repeat #1.

Letting Go of Lust

Why willpower alone is not enough

SOURCE:   Adam R. Holz/Discipleship Journal

The young man looks at the pile of work on his desk and takes a deep breath. With dread, he thinks about the deadline that looms on Friday. The pressing tyranny of so many things to do day after day has begun to wear on him.

As he heads to the kitchenette for another cup of coffee, a coworker steps out of her cubicle in front of him. He notices her clothes, or more specifically, how they fit her. In an instant, his thoughts race into forbidden territory as his glance sweeps over Marcia’s body.

“Morning, Sam,” Marcia says with a friendly smile.

“Morning, Marcia,” Sam replies according to script, unable to look her in the eyes.

Sam and Marcia discuss the morning’s non-news, the mundane stuff of casual conversations between coworkers. Almost unconsciously he watches her as she turns to leave the kitchenette.

As soon as she disappears around the corner, Sam realizes he’s fallen again. Despite his pleas to God and his vows to try harder, to do better, still his eyes wander. Like Peter after the cock crowed, Sam is filled with remorse. Back at his desk, he quietly pleads, “Forgive me, Lord.” But he neither feels forgiven nor has much time to think about it as he picks up the next invoice to record in the ledger.

Anatomy of Lust

Many sincere followers of Christ struggle with lust. What, exactly, is lust? Webster’s defines it as an “unusually intense or unbridled sexual desire.” In Ephesians, Paul says that lust characterizes those without Christ:

They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.—Eph. 4:18–19

Paul also wrote, “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts” (Eph. 2:3).

These passages paint a dark picture of the person trapped in lust. Though Paul was talking about unbelievers, when believers give in to lust regularly, our souls are similarly darkened. We grow insensitive to sin and increasingly pursue fleshly gratification. Lust promises satisfaction but never delivers. Instead, we’re left with a driving hunger for more.

People who struggle with lust may be tempted to wonder, Is obedience in this area of my life really possible? This has been a pressing question for me. I’ve had seasons of consistent obedience as well as failure. I wish I could say that I have “arrived” when it comes to defeating this demon. But I have not discovered the silver bullet that will permanently vanquish lust from my heart, mind, and eyes.

However, I have begun to see that dealing with lust demands a deeper examination of the core beliefs from which our sinful choices spring. We can make important behavioral changes—such as memorizing Scripture and seeking accountability—but still fail to look carefully at what’s really going on in our hearts. To experience lasting change, we must recognize that sexual sin springs from wrong beliefs about God, about others, and about what will ultimately satisfy our longing.

Unmasking Unbelief

What drives us to choose something that so consistently fails to satisfy, something that heaps debilitating shame upon our lives? God has created us with a natural desire to experience intimacy. Lust is a debased form of this desire to connect with others. We want other people to understand what’s going on inside us. Lust, however, mistakenly elevates the sexual component of intimacy. It twists and warps our hearts into the tragic belief that sexuality—and fantasy—is the chief means to that end.

Lust also reveals a stunted belief in God’s goodness and His ability to meet our needs. Throughout the Bible, God has promised to fill, satisfy, and sustain us. Isaiah 51:12 says, “I, even I, am he who comforts you.” Zephaniah 3:17 describes God’s passion for us in poetic terms: “He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” David spoke of God’s love for him: “Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you . . . My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods” (Ps. 63:3, 5). In Ps. 16:11, David also said, “You will fill me with joy in your presence.” Finally, Isaiah wrote about how God has designed our relationship with Him to quench our deepest thirsts. “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Is. 12:3).

The New Testament echoes the Old in the ways it describes God’s promise to satisfy us. Jesus said, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn. 4:14). Paul wrote, “And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19, NRSV). Paul repeatedly described believers as heirs to the inexhaustible riches of a Father God who loves us passionately. We are children of the King!

And yet we sometimes choose to live as paupers, rooting around desperately in the trash instead of dining on the rich fare He offers His children at His table. If we capitulate to the siren song of the flesh, distortions and lies creep into our thinking in subtle ways. Enticing but life-sapping alternatives to His goodness always crouch in the shadows of the soul, seeking to seduce our heart’s attention. Whether we realize it or not, we begin to rationalize our sin.

We may think, I’ve sought to serve Him with all my heart for many years, but still He hasn’t brought me a life partner. It doesn’t matter if I indulge this lustful thought a bit. God knows I’m a sexual being. I deserve a bit of comfort. Instead of recognizing our sin for what it is, we come to see it as a right. We squint at God, viewing Him as a stingy miser who has established unreasonable laws to keep us from what we think will satisfy us. Lust is born the moment we choose to meet our needs our way instead of trusting God to be true to what He’s promised.

Maybe we don’t vocalize those thoughts. But when we choose lust, our actions uncover what we believe. We have essentially said to God, “I really don’t believe You can satisfy my deepest needs, and I’m tired of waiting. I am going to have what I want, on my terms, right now, and I’m not willing to wait for You to fulfill my desires in Your time.” Lust, then, is the wicked child of unbelief.

That’s why willpower alone can never be the ultimate solution to the battles we wage against the lusts of our flesh. I may vow, “I’m never going to do that again.” But that momentary intention does not get at the root of the problem: my unbelief in God’s goodness.

Instead, I must recognize that one key to resisting lust’s lies is learning to go to the Father and praying in faith, “Lord, You have said that You delight in me, that You love me, that You want to comfort and fill me with Yourself. You have said that You alone are life and that Your love is better than anything we might experience in this life, including sex and my fantasies about it. Father, help me to trust You in this moment of temptation. I believe in Your ability to fill and satisfy me.”

Peter said that if we take God at His word, we will experience freedom from the shackles of sin and we will know Him intimately. “He has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pet. 1:4).

Seeing Better

In Shakespeare’s play King Lear, a once proud and noble king slowly goes insane, slipping into deep paranoia about those close to him. One of Lear’s friends admonishes him, “See better, Lear.” Like the senile Lear, we, too, need to see better. Not only does lust reveal unbelief, but it also demonstrates that I see others only as objects of gratification, not as individuals whom God has lovingly created in His image.

How can we begin to see people as God sees them? By allowing Scripture to saturate our hearts. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, God’s Word will transform our perspective. As we read and meditate upon it, we see what He values and discover how He wants us to relate to others. He uses His Word to rewire our perspective on reality, giving us new eyes to “see better.”

All of Scripture pours forth God’s love for each individual. A couple of passages, however, stand out regarding the way we see people. One important thing to reflect upon is that every person has been made in God’s image (see Gen. 1:27). David describes God’s craftsmanship in Ps. 139:13–16:

You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful . . . My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.

Every person has tremendous dignity and worth simply by virtue of being created lovingly by God. We can begin to combat lust by asking God to help us remember and believe, deep in our hearts, that each individual is a unique and wondrous creation who bears His image. When I lust after a woman, I do violence to her dignity by failing to see her as a whole person and respect her as an image bearer of our God. Over the last couple of years, this truth has significantly changed the way I see people.

Another passage is one of the most familiar commands in the Bible: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Mt. 7:12). As a man, I’ve rarely been on the receiving end of lustful glances. However, one experience showed me how ugly, how selfish, how disgusting my lust is.

On a weekend trip to Santa Fe with one of my best friends and his wife, we discovered a club that featured a different kind of music every night. We enjoyed a delightful evening of jazz and returned the next night to see what else was on tap.

When we walked in, I noticed that everyone sitting at the bar was male. My friend whispered to me, “This feels weird.” He was right. Several male couples openly expressed their affection for one another on the dance floor. Recognition dawned: It was gay night.

By the time my friend and I turned to leave, three men at the bar were openly sizing us up. No veil of shame or embarrassment cloaked their hungry eyes. I remember how disgusting it felt to be seen as a steak on a platter. Almost immediately, however, a familiar voice said, “Adam, how often do you do the same thing?”

I try to remember that sense of violation. I try to remember because it’s not the way I want to be treated, nor is it the way I want to regard any woman. By God’s help and power, I am learning to see better.

Intimacy and Community

Earlier I commented that lust is a misguided attempt to meet our legitimate needs for intimacy. We may think the key to escaping lust’s tenacious grip is paying more attention to private spiritual disciplines. While this is important, I believe another crucial component is often overlooked. Those who struggle with lust must experience wholesome intimacy within the context of a loving community. We need to be with others who love us deeply, yet not sexually. We need to receive their affirmation, their affection, their love, and their touch.

Genuine community is built upon a willingness to take off our masks in front of others. Though we need to be careful to do this in appropriate settings, such as in a small group or even with one other person, it’s critically important that someone knows who we really are.

Moving toward that kind of honesty is never easy, even if someone else has taken the risk first. But often, we will have to be the one who steps forward, takes the risk, and talks openly about our sin.

Proverbs 28:13 describes the healing process that takes place when we confess our struggles to an accepting community of believing friends: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” I’ve sometimes failed to live up to the standards of purity God commands of us. Each time, I experience a tortuous descent into self-loathing, a crippling burden to bear alone.

Even after I’ve confessed my sin to God, I can only find complete freedom from my shame by confessing the whole truth about my choices to several men I trust. In doing so, I’ve never failed to experience the mercy about which the writer of Proverbs speaks.

The freedom and healing in confession come from knowing that others have glimpsed the dark places in our hearts yet accept and love us anyway. God graciously uses other believers as vessels of His mercy and grace, reminding us through them that forgiveness is real, that it is our birthright as His sons and daughters.

Hope for the Battle

When we find ourselves giving in again to lust, we need to look beyond the behavior itself to what’s going on in our hearts. Lust is a clue that something about the way we’re approaching life is not right.

If you’re wrestling with this sin, consider how you’re seeing God and others. Do you believe God is capable of meeting your needs? Are you carving out time to know Him in increasing intimacy through His Word and prayer? How are you looking at other people? Are you seeing them as image bearers of God or treating them as objects? Are you sharing your heart with others, letting them see your struggle, and receiving the gift of their prayers and willingness to listen? Or are you in hiding?

Paul’s promises about God’s work in my life give me hope for this ongoing battle. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13). By His grace, I recognize His tremendous Father-love for me more each day. As I do so, His eyes become mine, and I see other people from His redemptive, life-giving perspective, instead of viewing them through the warped lenses of lust.

How to See God’s Hand in Your Suffering

SOURCE:  John Flavel/Desiring God Ministry by Jonathan Parnell

John Flavel, in 1678, instructs readers to see God as the author of all circumstances in life, including suffering:

 Set before you the sovereignty of God.

Eye Him as the Being infinitely superior to you, at whose pleasure you and all your have subsist (Psalm 115:3), which is the most conclusive reason and argument for submission (Psalm 46:10). For if we, all we have proceeded from His will, how right is it that we be resigned up to it!

Set the grace and goodness of God before you in all afflictive providences.

O see Him passing by you in the cloudy and dark day, proclaiming His name, ‘The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious’ (Exodus 34:6).

Eye the wisdom of God in all your afflictions. 

Behold it in the choice of the kind of your affliction, this, and not another; the time, now and not at another season; the degree, in this measure only, and not in a greater; the supports offered you under it, not left altogether helpless; the issue to which it is overruled, it is to your good, not ruin.

Set the faithfulness of the Lord before you under the saddest providences. 

O what quietness will this breed! I see my God will not lose my heart, if a rod can prevent it. he would rather hear me groan here than howl hereafter. His love is judicious, not fond. He consults my good rather than my ease.

Eye the all-sufficiency of God in the day of affliction. 

See enough in Him still, whatever is gone. Here is the fountain still as full as ever, though this or that pipe is cut off, which was wont to convey somewhat of it to me.

Lastly, eye the immutablity of God. 

Look on Him as the Rock of ages, ‘The Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning (James 1:17). Eye Jesus Christ as ‘the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.’

The Mystery of Providence, 1678, (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 130-132, bold and paragraphing mine.

________

Forgiveness: Coming Home to God’s Embrace

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Paul Thigpen

When Wycliffe Bible translator Bob Russell sought a word for “forgiveness” in the language of the Amahuacas of eastern Peru, he discovered their unique way of asking one another for pardon. In that culture, if an offender wants to be reconciled with someone he’s offended, he says to him, “Speak to me.”

Russell learned that Amahuacas who are unreconciled typically refuse to speak to each other. So when the offender asks the offended to speak, it’s the equivalent of saying, “Show me we’re friends again by being on speaking terms once more.”

The many biblical terms translated in English as “forgive” reflect a beautiful array of meanings: to cancel debts; to lay aside or to cast away sins; to spare, to cleanse, to rescue, or to free the sinner. Yet the Amahuaca expression strikingly translates what is the most important biblical meaning of God’s forgiveness—above all, it is a reconciliation, the restoration of a friendship with Him that has been marred by sin.

The prophet Isaiah put it this way:  “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Is. 59:2).

Our wickedness is an offense to God’s holiness, and we aren’t on “speaking terms” until the offense is forgiven. But Christ’s sacrifice has made a way for us to be reconciled.

For [God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins . . . Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.

—Col. 1:13–14, 21–22

The sins that came between God and us can be cast aside so that we can be friends again.

All other meanings of the word forgiveness must be seen in the light of this one. As the various biblical terms imply, our debts have indeed been remitted, our punishment has been averted, our hearts have been cleansed and set free, our lives have been spared—and all with a single purpose in mind: that we might receive the greatest gift of all, to be once again “on speaking terms” with our Father in heaven.

Like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable, we’re relieved to be swapping our smelly rags for a silken robe and our pigs’ pods for a fat-calf feast (see Lk. 15:11–32). But what could possibly match the thrill of seeing our Father—the one whose heart we broke with our sin—running toward us with open arms? He has welcomed us home again!

It takes two.

If God has gone to such great lengths to reconcile us, why do we sometimes fail to experience His marvelous forgiveness? Instead of returning to our Father as the prodigal son did, why do we so often wallow with the pigs, far away from home?

It’s not that God’s grace isn’t great enough or that some sins provoke Him so mightily that He refuses to forgive. It’s simply that God’s offer of forgiveness is essentially an offer of friendship. Since friendship takes two, our response is critical.

Those who have accepted God’s great offer of reconciliation through Christ may sometimes fail to experience His forgiveness in concrete situations because of certain attitudes or behaviors that are somehow marring their relationship with Him.

I had a close friend in college who always seemed to be short of cash. One day he asked me for a small loan. As he well knew, I didn’t have much money to spare, but I made the loan on the condition that he pay it back by a certain date when I would need it to pay a bill.

That date came and went, and the loan remained unpaid. At first I was upset, because I had to scramble to pay my bill. But I was well aware of his situation, so I let go of my anger and determined to cancel the debt for the sake of our friendship.

Yet there was a problem:  Because my friend knew he was guilty of breaking his promise and causing me hardship, he started avoiding me. He no longer dropped by my dorm room and never returned my phone calls. He began eating in a different dining hall so he wouldn’t run into me.

In short, he lived every day under a cloud of shame that ruined our friendship. And his failure to come to me and talk about his offense denied me the chance to say, “I forgive your debt.”

Opening Ourselves to Forgiveness

In a similar way, experiencing divine forgiveness and its proper fruit depends in part on our right response to God. Scripture reveals several responses that help us open ourselves to receive God’s forgiveness in its fullness. Consider these.

Confess your sin. The scriptural promise of forgiveness for our daily failures includes an important condition: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9, emphasis mine).

King David tells us how his own failure to admit his sin blocked his reception of God’s forgiveness.

When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long. . . .
Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions
to the Lord”—
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

—Ps. 32:3, 5

In a sense, our refusal to confess our sins to God is a refusal to be “on speaking terms” with Him. If we would be reconciled, then we must admit to the sins that are damaging our friendship with Him.

Practice humility.   We can’t ask God to forgive our sin—and we can’t accept His forgiveness for it—when our pride keeps us from even recognizing that we’ve sinned. Our Lord’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector vividly demonstrates this obstacle to forgiveness (Lk. 18:9–14).

The tax collector was painfully aware of his failings, beating his breast and crying out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” (v. 13). The Pharisee, on the other hand, was self-righteous (v. 11), patting himself on the back for all his good deeds. Yet despite all the Pharisee’s religious accomplishments, his relationship with God was flawed by pride, and pride is blind to its own evil. Not surprisingly, then, Jesus tells us that the humble tax collector went home forgiven, but the proud Pharisee did not.

Fight against habits of sin.   Like the conscience blinded by pride, the conscience blinded by habitual sin is unable to recognize its need for grace. Perhaps the most startling scriptural example of a hardened conscience is the mocking thief crucified next to Jesus, whose cruel and blasphemous attitude suggests that his heart had been calloused by his crimes (Lk. 23:39). His scorn of Jesus’ sacrifice and his lack of any remorse stand in stark contrast to the humble plea of the other thief, who rebuked the impenitent criminal for failing to see that they both deserved their punishment (vv. 40–43).

The same gift of grace appeared to both men; the same possibility of forgiveness was offered to both. One, because of a seared conscience, refused grace and was lost forever. The other, though equally a sinner, accepted grace—and gained paradise with the Lord.

We may not refuse God’s grace altogether as the one thief did. But if we persevere in a particular kind of sin until it no longer disturbs us, we may become like those whom Paul described as having “consciences . . . seared as with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:2). Our friendship with God will be damaged by the sin we no longer regret.

Recognize the seriousness of sin.   Even when we must admit to ourselves that some aspect of our attitude or behavior is sinful, we may nevertheless convince ourselves that the sin is of little consequence. Yet only when we recognize the true seriousness of even “small” sins are we able to experience fully God’s forgiveness of them.

Remember the “woman who had lived a sinful life” and who came to Jesus while He was the guest of Simon the Pharisee (Lk. 7:36–50)? She wet the Lord’s feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and poured costly perfume on them. When this scandalized Simon, Jesus observed that her extravagant behavior reflected her own keen awareness of the seriousness of her sin: She was able to love Him deeply, to enjoy an intimate fellowship with Him, because she knew how great was the debt she had been forgiven.

In contrast, Jesus pointed out, Simon had received Him rather coldly. The Lord compared the Pharisee to a man who “loves little” because he “has been forgiven little.” Self-righteous Simon probably took that to mean that he didn’t have any serious sin to be forgiven. But knowing Jesus’ explicit and repeated condemnations of pharisaical pride and hypocrisy, we might more reasonably conclude that Simon’s problem wasn’t that his sin was insignificant. He had simply failed to recognize just how serious it was, and thus he had failed to accept forgiveness for it.

Recognize grace as a costly treasure.   God’s grace is free, but it isn’t cheap: It cost Him the most precious life of His Son. If we fail to recognize the steep price that was paid to reconcile us to God—if we view forgiveness as cheap—then we’ll place little value on our restored friendship with God, and we’ll be more likely to persevere in sin.

The writer to the Hebrews recognized the seriousness of this problem. He warned that those who “deliberately keep on sinning” (10:26) have actually devalued and despised God’s gift of forgiveness in Christ. Such a person “has trampled the Son of God under foot . . . has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him . . . has insulted the Spirit of grace” (v. 29).

When we persist in sin with the idea, “No problem—God will forgive me,” we lose all sense of the treasure that is God’s grace, and we reject the freedom from sin that it’s intended to bring. Is it any wonder in such a case that our experience of forgiveness will be empty?

Cultivate faith in God’s goodness and mercy.   Sometimes the obstacles to experiencing God’s forgiveness have less to do with an inadequate grasp of the seriousness of our sin and more to do with a wrong understanding of God and His great gifts to us. Our Lord’s parable of the talents (Mt. 25:14–30) reveals the sad irony of those who mistrust God because they doubt the goodness of His character. Though they receive the same gifts of grace others receive, they’re unable to profit from such gifts—they bury them—because they’re paralyzed by fear.

To experience fully the grace of our reconciliation with God—to know the power of His forgiveness—we “must believe . . . that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb. 11:6). If we doubt that God is willing to forgive us, we won’t be motivated to seek His forgiveness. So we must plant firmly in our hearts the scriptural promises of divine mercy, meditating on them and using them in prayer as the psalmist did: “You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you” (Ps. 86:5).

Realize that no sin is greater than Christ’s sacrifice.   Sometimes we fail to experience God’s forgiveness because we’re tempted to conclude that our sin is so great, or so tenacious, or so shameful that God can’t possibly forgive it. But this conclusion is simply a failure to appreciate the magnitude of what God has done to reconcile us to Himself. Think of the infinite value of Christ’s atoning death. Could our sin possibly be greater than His sacrifice?

Forgive others quickly and completely.   Finally, we must note that Jesus was quite explicit about the consequences of holding a grudge. After teaching His disciples what has come to be called the Lord’s prayer, He added a sobering comment: “But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Mt. 6:15). Then, as if to underline the point, He later told the frightening parable of the servant who was denied mercy because he himself was unmerciful (Mt. 18:21–35).

The lesson is clear:  Bitterness damages our relationship with God and blocks our experience of His forgiveness. What we refuse to grant others, we reject for ourselves. For that reason, we must obey the scriptural command: “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13).

On Speaking Terms

Is God’s forgiveness available to all? Is it a free gift? Is it greater than the greatest of our sins? Is He always willing to forgive? Yes, on every count. But our experience of His forgiveness depends in part on our right response to His grace.

Once again, I think of my cash-short college friend. Though he hid from me for months, the story had a happy ending. One night we ended up at the same party. When my friend walked into the room, his eyes met mine, and he knew what he had to do. He took me aside to ask my forgiveness. I told him the debt had been canceled long ago and asked him, with a hug, what had taken him so long to find out.

We were on speaking terms again.

The parallel should be clear. To know the breadth and depth of God’s mercy, we must strive, in all the ways we’ve noted, to let no sins or doubts remain between us, causing a separation. Only then can we enjoy the fullness of a restored friendship with the Father who never tires of running to meet us with arms open wide.

Answers in Times of Great Disaster

SOURCE:  Charles Stanley

Read | Deuteronomy 29:29

Almighty God reserves the right to reveal some things and conceal others. Although we may not know why natural disasters occur, the biblical truths we do know with absolute certainty allow us to trust the Lord even in times of great suffering. These include:

1. God is in control (Ps. 103:19).

Nothing in heaven or on earth is outside of His rule and authority. He does not react to events but sovereignly ordains or permits them to run their course. Although we cannot know for certain if He has sent a catastrophe or allowed it, we can trust in His goodness and wisdom.

2. The Lord loves people and wants them to be saved (John 3:16-17).

Giving His Son for the salvation of the world proves without a doubt that He loves each person. This truth stands firm despite the fact that many reject the Savior. He cares for us, even when we can’t feel it or won’t accept it.

3. God ordains or permits events for His good purpose (Isa. 46:10).

Though we cannot fully comprehend what He is doing in each incident, every disaster is a wake-up call for humanity. He is alerting us of the need to repent—so the lost can be saved and the saved can be revived to live totally for Him. Catastrophes open our ears to hear from the Lord.

The One who loves us perfectly is in full control, working everything out according to His good purpose. Knowing this should fill us with hope, even in the midst of crisis situations. The Lord even promises to turn disaster to good for those who “are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

Is God Angry With Me?

Assuming the goodness of God

SOURCE:  Joel J. Miller

A friend recently told me about an acquaintance who’s convinced that God is angry with her. She’s in a rough patch right now and believes that he’s punishing her.

I’m not equipped to plumb the mind of God, but I wonder about that. Some people seem quick to assume the anger of God. Perhaps there are personal reasons they feel distance from him, and that distance feels like God’s displeasure toward them. If you read the Psalms, you’re familiar with the dynamic. But I don’t think that God is far away from David; I think it’s more like David has drawn away from God.

God is there, ready to forgive, ready to make peace. That’s the assumption of Psalm 51. “A broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise.” The psalmist assumes the goodness and graciousness of God. I wonder why we don’t do that more often, more readily.

In John 14, Jesus says that there are many mansions in the Father’s house, and that he’s preparing one for us. But notice what he also says: “If it were not so, I would have told you.” What I love in the statement is something not actually said because it’s too obvious to warrant saying: that we should assume the beneficence, provision, and love of God. “If it were not so,” after all, “I would have told you.”

But of course it is so. It’s a given. It’s assumed.

Do we assume it? Or do we assume that God is holding out on us, that he resists and resents us, that he’s less than beneficent and loving?

Both Psalms 103 and 145 say that God is slow to anger and abounding in mercy. They are picking up on a theme that appears elsewhere in the Scripture. Quoting, for instance, the second chapter of Joel: “[R]end your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm.”

I’m not debating whether God disciplines his children. Scripture says that he does. But the passages that say so assume his love as well. “[W]hom the Lord loves He chastens,” as Paul says in Hebrews, quoting from Proverbs, which adds the hopeful line, “Just as a father the son in whom he delights.” Delights, not detests!

We all have sins that can cause us to feel separated at times, maybe much of the time. If that’s the case, there’s all the more reason to get this right. Assuming the worst of God is only bad for us. We should instead assume the best and be encouraged: If your heart is broken by your sins, God will not squash it. He will bind it up like the Samaritan meeting us on the roadside. If we return home, he will rush out to greet us like the father of the prodigal.

God Governs All Things: Good & Evil

Why I Do Not Say, “God Did Not Cause the Calamity, But He Can Use It for Good.”

SOURCE:  John Piper

Many Christians are speaking this way about the murderous destruction of the World Trade Towers on September 11, 2001. God did not cause it, but he can use it for good. There are two reasons I do not say this. One is that it goes beyond, and is contrary to, what the Bible teaches. The other is that it undermines the very hope it wants to offer.

First, this statement goes beyond and against the Bible. For some, all they want to say, in denying that God “caused” the calamity, is that God is not a sinner and that God does not remove human accountability and that God is compassionate. That is true—and precious beyond words. But for others, and for most people who hear this slogan, something far more is implied. Namely, God, by his very nature, cannot or would not act to bring about such a calamity. This view of God is what contradicts the Bible and undercuts hope.

How God governs all events in the universe without sinning, and without removing responsibility from man, and with compassionate outcomes is mysterious indeed! But that is what the Bible teaches. God “works all things after the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).

This “all things” includes the fall of sparrows (Matthew 10:29), the rolling of dice (Proverbs 16:33), the slaughter of his people (Psalm 44:11), the decisions of kings (Proverbs 21:1), the failing of sight (Exodus 4:11), the sickness of children (2 Samuel 12:15), the loss and gain of money (1 Samuel 2:7), the suffering of saints (1 Peter 4:19), the completion of travel plans (James 4:15), the persecution of Christians (Hebrews 12:4-7), the repentance of souls (2 Timothy 2:25), the gift of faith (Philippians 1:29), the pursuit of holiness (Philippians 3:12-13), the growth of believers (Hebrews 6:3), the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Samuel 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27-28).

From the smallest thing to the greatest thing, good and evil, happy and sad, pagan and Christian, pain and pleasure—God governs them all for his wise and just and good purposes (Isaiah 46:10). Lest we miss the point, the Bible speaks most clearly to this in the most painful situations. Amos asks, in time of disaster, “If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?” (Amos 3:6). After losing all ten of his children in the collapse of his son’s house, Job says, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). After being covered with boils he says, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10).

Oh, yes, Satan is real and active and involved in this world of woe! In fact Job 2:7 says, “Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” Satan struck him. But Job did not get comfort from looking at secondary causes. He got comfort from looking at the ultimate cause. “Shall we not accept adversity from God?” And the author of the book agrees with Job when he says that Job’s brothers and sisters “consoled him and comforted him for all the adversities that the LORD had brought on him” (Job 42:11). Then James underlines God’s purposeful goodness in Job’s misery: “You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful” (James 5:11). Job himself concludes in prayer: “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). Yes, Satan is real, and he is terrible—and he is on a leash.

The other reason I don’t say, “God did not cause the calamity, but he can use it for good,” is that it undercuts the very hope it wants to create. I ask those who say this: “If you deny that God could have ‘used’ a million prior events to save 5,000 people from this great evil, what hope then do you have that God could now ‘use’ this terrible event to save you in the hour of trial?” We say we believe he can use these events for good, but we deny that he could use the events of the past to hold back the evil of September 11. But the Bible teaches he could have restrained this evil (Genesis 20:6). “The LORD nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples” (Psalm 33:10). But it was not in his plan to do it. Let us beware. We spare God the burden of his sovereignty and lose our only hope.

All of us are sinners. We deserve to perish. Every breath we take is an undeserved gift. We have one great hope: that Jesus Christ died to obtain pardon and righteousness for us (Ephesians 1:7; 2 Corinthians 5:21), and that God will employ his all-conquering, sovereign grace to preserve us for our inheritance (Jeremiah 32:40). We surrender this hope if we sacrifice this sovereignty.

Living With A Painful Situation

SOURCE:  Taken from  The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) pp. 64-64

Although we can be sure that God is always working for our good and the good of others, even through trials and suffering, we will not always know exactly what that good is.

In many cases his ultimate purposes will not be evident for a long time.

And in some situations his ways and objectives are simply too profound for us to comprehend, at least until we see God face to face (see Romans 11:33-36).

This should not diminish our confidence in him or our willingness to obey him, however. As Deuteronomy 29:29 tells us, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”

This passage provides the key to dealing faithfully with painful and unjust situations. God may not tell us everything we want to know about the painful events of life, but he has already told us all we need to know. Therefore, instead of wasting time and energy trying to figure out things that are beyond our comprehension, we need to turn our attention to the promises and instructions that God has revealed to us through Scripture. The Bible tells us that God is both sovereign and good, so we can be sure that whatever he has brought into our lives can be used to glorify him, to benefit others, and to help us to grow.

Food for Thought

Are you living with a painful situation? Is there a situation in your life that you just don’t understand why it has transpired in the way it has?

As you trust God with the “secret things,” first remember all he has already done for you through Christ. Then focus your attention on obeying his revealed will, and you will experience greater peace within yourself (Psalm 131; Isaiah 26:3) and serve him more effectively as a peacemaker (Proverbs 3:5-7).

God’s Word Is C-O-N-N-E-C-T-E-D To Suffering

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article at Counseling Solutions

QUESTION:   My husband is disabled and in high pain daily and on morphine to keep the pain down to a 7 on the pain scale. The Scriptures I see on suffering seem to relate the Gospel to persecution when read in context. How would I relate the Gospel to his suffering since it’s not related to persecution?

This is not only a “smart” and insightful question, but it is a question from a lady who loves God and loves her husband and she wants to think rightly about what they are going through. She is also looking in the right direction (the Gospel) for help and hope.

God was very clear to Adam that if he ate the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil he would most assuredly die. (Genesis 2:16-17) We not only know the rest of the story, but because we were born the first time “in Adam” we are experiencing the rest of the story in real and despairing ways. After Adam ate the fruit from the forbiddened tree, there was a dramatic change in his physicality. This was only part of the curse that man has experienced because of Adam’s blunder.

The Gospel Speaks Explicitly About Physical Suffering

Adam not only began a “death march” to his future grave after he disobeyed God in the Garden, but he experienced physical challenges, upheavals, changes, and deterioration regarding his overall health.

Physical suffering makes a loud and clear statement that we need the Gospel because only the Gospel can bring about a reversal of the predetermined physical death that we are living. No one escapes personal, physical suffering. Here are some other key points to remember when we think about our physical suffering:

  1. The very essence of the Gospel tells us that something is wrong. If nothing was wrong, there would be no need for the Gospel. (The Gospel is Christ: his person and his work.) Therefore, it is a logical and accurate assumption that everyone will experience physical pain and suffering.
  2. The curse that we experience as fallen people does not mean that death is the only physical suffering we will endure. Part of living under the curse means we will experience personal suffering, other than death, throughout our lives.
  3. We can logically deduce that everyone will experience personal suffering differently. Some will die young, while others will die after a long life. Some will smoke cigarettes and live to be one-hundred, while others will never smoke a cigarette and die at the age of thirty. There is a randomness, from our perspective, to the curse. But we can be assured that what appears to be random to us is set or predetermined in the wisdom of God.
  4. Physical suffering is one of the louder testimonies that rises from the human soul, appealing to God for the Gospel. Our daily physical deterioration bespeaks of our acute need for help that can only be completely satisfied outside of ourselves. (2 Cor. 4:16)
  5. And the Gospel testifies back to us that help is not only present in the here and now, but that there is help awaiting us in some future day. In that day we will be completely transformed.
  6. The Gospel inspires us, not only by reminding us that God is good, but that he will finish what he began. (Phil. 1:6) It is the Gospel that gives us hope, even in the midst of the brokenness of our lives.
  7. Physical suffering is just one of the ways the counter-intuitive Gospel can manifest itself in our lives. Our world is floundering and angry because they do not have an answer to life’s problems. But the Christian sufferer who understands the purposes and eternality of the Gospel is not only hope-filled, but he/she can make a bold statement to a world which needs to see and experience the hope the sufferer has in the Gospel.
  8. Joni Tada is one of the more remarkable testimonies of the counter-intuitive Gospel in our day. Through her weakness, God’s strength is perfected and manifest. Joni wrestled through the “is God good question” many years ago. Since that time she has inspired more folks through her personal suffering than when she had been healthy. Though she is a quadriplegic, God’s strength (not hers) is being perfected through her. Because she is weak, He is shown to be strong.

Paul understood the Gospel very well when it came to physical suffering. [He] connected his physical suffering to the Gospel. In 1 Corinthians 1:1823-25 he unpacks the Gospel and in 2 Corinthians 12:9-12 he makes a strong Gospel analogy regarding how his physical suffering models the “weakness and foolishness” of the Gospel to a Gospel-resistant world.

Thank YOU for NOT giving me what I want!

SOURCE:  Counseling Solutions

Sometimes God chooses, on purpose, not to give us all that we desire.

I parent similarly. Don’t you?

Through the years I have found it unwise to give my children everything they wanted.

For example, there have been times where I have purposely withheld information from them because it was not the right time to “bring them up to speed” on what I was thinking or planning.

Even the Savior said to those He was caring for, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” – John 16:12 (ESV)

In the OT we see God withholding His full blessing in the historical account of the Israelites re-taking their land. Notice how the Father described how they would get their land back and, thus, receive all that God had prepared for them:

I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. – Exodus 23:29-30 (ESV)

The Hebrew nation was not large enough to occupy the entire land. Therefore, God did not completely drive out the enemy, at least not until His nation grew in number. Interestingly, God was actually using the enemy to caretake the land until His people were able to take care of it. In time, He incrementally drove out the enemy in proportion to Israel’s numerical growth.

If God had given then all they wanted when they wanted it, it would have been a disaster. They would not have been able to steward all of God’s blessing due to their numerical weakness.

  • Have you ever experienced this kind of merciful wisdom from the Lord?
  • Have you ever appealed to the Father to give you something that you were not mature enough to handle?
  • Upon hindsight, did you see God’s mercy in not giving you what you wanted when you wanted it?

There have been times of personal suffering in my life where I pleaded with the Lord to remove the suffering from me. I have shared on this website how I would use “manipulative praying” to convince the Lord that I was okay and ready for the next blessing He had for me.

I felt as though I was okay and ready to move forward. I wanted to believe it was time to “inherit” the blessing God was withholding from me. But it did not matter how much I asked; God would not relent, not until it was His timing.

God knew that it would not be in my best interest to give me all that He had in store for me.

He was right.

I could not see it then, but I see it quite clearly now.

Father knows best

It is not unusual for my children to experience present discontentment as they eagerly anticipate the next good thing from their father. This is the way children are. This is the way I am!

I have to discern and decide if it is wise and right to give them what they want. Sometimes it is an easy choice, while at other times the things they are asking for are not necessarily bad.

For the good things they request, it’s not so much about the request as it is about the timing. Is it the right time to give them what they want? This is a very important question that all parents must wrestle with.

My prayer to God and my appeal to them is that they will trust me. I want them to trust my judgment while being assured that I have their best interests at heart.

Imagine this:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! – Luke 11:13 (ESV)

Do you believe this?

  • What would it take for you to trust God’s decision-making in your life?
  • Can you trust God…that He has your best interest at heart?
  • Do you really believe that God has not forsaken you in your trial?

Faith and Responsibility

My children have a responsibility to bring glory to God, even if they are not getting what they want. Their primary responsibility is to live in faith regarding their present circumstances while trusting God for their future provisions.

My regular appeal to them is to be responsible today with what they have.

The Hebrew nation also had a responsibility to abide in faith regarding God’s present provisions, while trusting Him for the future expansion of their borders.

It could be that some of your dreams are not being fulfilled today. Can you live responsibly today, while trusting that God is working on your behalf? Though you may not like the “little by little” progress that God is making in your life, will you humble yourself to the Master, knowing that He is and will always take care of you?

Your responsibility is not to whine about today or fret about tomorrow, but to seek to make God’s name great in your life regardless of your circumstance. I realize this can be daunting for you, depending on your trial or personal suffering.

Godly AND Depressed

Editor’s Note:  Too often, as Christians, we can be beset by a overwhelming spirit of depression as we cling to the presence and promises of God.  This article pinpoints the reality of this dilemma AND the truths of the God who is with us through these times.

SOURCE:  Taken from the article,   Though I Sit in Darkness:  One Man’s account of keeping the faith in the midst of depression.  Discipleship Journal

I stand with the rest of the congregation for a familiar hymn. My heart is sad and parched. Mouthing the words takes a Herculean effort. I feel out-of-place in the midst of so many people with smiles on their faces and praise on their lips. I can’t remember the last time I felt buoyant in spirit or put my heart into worship. Guilt badgers me, for I’m aware that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

I’m trying to muster enough resolve to keep a lunch appointment with a student and to teach an afternoon class at the university. The last thing I want is to be around people. As I walk to the campus cafeteria, my gait is slow and my spirit is lethargic.

I hope the student won’t show. The idea of listening to and feigning interest in another person creates pressure that I resent. There’s a high humidity in my heart that smothers motivation and saps energy for the daily routine.

I sit in my recliner, clutching a second handful of tear-soaked tissues. In stark contrast to the afternoon sun, my spirit is pitch-black. “Where are You when I need You?” I cry aloud to God as despair envelops me. “Don’t You care enough to help?”

My weeping becomes so violent that my body convulses. All the prayers I’ve uttered seem in vain.

The pain won’t ease up.

These vignettes from the past year depict my ongoing struggle with depression. When I’m caught in it, I’m either too numb to feel anything, or the pendulum swings to the opposite extreme and I collapse in a torrent of tears. Yet whether I’m void of emotion or hypersensitive, hopelessness taunts me. A battle rages in my spirit. The voice of despair insists that the darkness is inevitable, that the pain will never subside. The voice of faith offers a rebuttal, pointing me to God and asserting that hope will have the last word. Despite the severity of the symptoms I’ve experienced, I choose to believe the voice of faith. Hope can triumph over despondency.

I believe that the gospel is hopeful, that God is good, that any form of adversity can serve a redemptive purpose. So I refuse to wave a white flag when my spirit sags. I identify with the psalmist who—within a single verse—acknowledged despondency and told himself to focus on God as an object of trust:

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God. —Ps. 42:5

I can’t claim victory over the nemesis of depression. Yet I can share how I contend with it and avoid yielding to the foe of hopelessness. I can tell you what I’m learning about keeping faith when the feeling is gone.

Godly and Depressed

A myth persists among some Christians that if a person is right with the Lord, despondency won’t descend on him. A member of my church, aware of my depression, inquired about my devotional life. I assured her that days in which I’ve had unremitting emotional pain began with Bible study, fervent prayer, and confession of known sins. She walked away, apparently unconvinced.

I’ve learned that there is no direct correlation between the onset of depression and the quality of my relationship with the Lord. I’m not suggesting that time alone with God and His Word isn’t crucial in the fight against despondency. I am saying that neglect of spiritual disciplines isn’t a satisfactory explanation for the onset of my emotional lows. I can be in the vise-grip of depression when I’m in close fellowship with the Lord, or I can be lighthearted when I’m not so close to Him.

More than once, King David experienced life-sapping melancholy that was apparently not the result of sin or disobedience. According to Ps. 13:1–2, David felt sorrow in his heart and thought that God had abandoned him. On a different occasion, David asked the Lord to be responsive to his tears and expressed a desire to smile again (Ps. 39:12–13). The same man whom the Scriptures call a “man after God’s own heart,” who encouraged others to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” experienced bouts of discouragement that we would likely call depression today.

Medical experts agree that recurring depression, especially when it cannot be linked to a personal setback or external event, has a biological basis. That’s why medical intervention may be needed. Since 1990 I’ve been under a physician’s care. Through early 2002, prescription medications boosted my mental health and kept the depression in check.

Since then, however, the effectiveness of medicines has waned, and I’ve been depressed more often than not. This has forced me to rely more on my faith for sustenance. Though there’s not a cause-and-effect relationship between my devotional habits and the onset of melancholy, faith is still key in my fight against it. I’m discovering that even depression that has a physical cause must be fought with spiritual weapons, as well as with medications.

Promises, Promises

My first weapon in the battle against despondency remains the promises in God’s Word. I’ve discovered that memorizing selected verses keeps me from giving up and yielding to the despair. God’s promises fuel the faith that’s needed to counter my hopelessness.

In Future Grace, John Piper emphasizes,

Wherever despondency comes from, Satan paints it with a lie. The lie says, “You will never be happy again. You will never be strong again. You will never have vigor and determination again. Your life will never again be purposeful. There is no morning after this night. No joy after weeping. All is gathering gloom, darker and darker.”

When I’m bombarded with similar messages, I buttress my faith with verses such as Ps. 30:5, that combat Satan’s lies: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Another buoyant promise that keeps me from drowning in discouragement is Nah. 1:7:

The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.

No matter how I’m feeling, I strive to cling to a right view of God as depicted in Is. 30:18: “The Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.” I cannot prevent most attacks of despondency by memorizing Scripture, but I can shorten their stay and minimize their effects by focusing on God: who He is, what He has done for me, and what He has pledged Himself to do.

The author of Psalm 73 also fought despair by riveting his attention on truth about God. He acknowledged weakness and despondency with these words: “My flesh and my heart may fail.” Yet he refused to yield to discouragement. He battled back by telling himself, “But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (v. 26).

One effect of depression on my work is my inability to sense God’s presence as I prepare for and teach classes. That’s when I choose to lock my mental lens on Is. 41:10:

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

I “preach to myself.” I remind myself that God is with me whether or not I feel His presence. I tell myself that God’s Word, which promises His presence, is far more reliable than my fickle feelings. The outcome is that I work with renewed confidence and vigor.

Gather Round

In addition to clinging to God’s promises, I desperately need the love and support of my friends and family. During one particularly rough week, my wife and closest friends thought I might be suicidal. A friend took me to breakfast and assured me of his love. Another showed up at my house the same day. “I’m sitting by your side for the next couple of hours,” he announced. “I didn’t come with advice, but I’m here in case you want to talk or pray. Even if you just read the paper or watch TV, I’m not leaving your side.”

Their actions affirmed and encouraged me. I was on the receiving end of two of the Apostle Paul’s relational commands to believers:

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

—Gal. 6:2

Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

—1 Thess. 5:11

The Greek verb translated “encourage” literally means “to come alongside.” Remember the last time your car had a dead battery? You asked someone to pull his car alongside yours. You used jumper cables to connect the good battery and the depleted one. The energy flowed into the weaker battery until it could function on its own. What a picture of the ministry of encouragement! It occurs when sensitive people pull alongside someone whose battery is low, who needs an infusion of strength, who can’t function without assistance. I thank God for the two friends who pulled alongside me that day and gave me a jump-start.

No one can help me bear the burden of depression, however, unless I’m willing to be transparent and admit my need. I have to swallow my pride and risk appearing less than victorious before I can receive strength from other believers. On my most downhearted days, I call close friends and ask them to pray with me over the phone. Once I drove to a friend’s house and knocked on the door. When his wife answered, I pleaded through tears, “Can I borrow David for a while?”

Anyone who is depressed needs the safe harbor of a friend or a small group where he can drop anchor and receive emotional support. In some cases, the help of a Christian counselor may also be needed.

With the support of Scripture and of those around me, I am better able to recognize and experience the spiritual benefits of my despondency.

A Softened Heart

Though emotional pain is not the direct result of sin on my part, depression pays dividends in my war against sin. It softens my heart and makes me open to the Holy Spirit’s work in my life. When I’m victimized by a flagging spirit, I’m in a more dependent state. I pray more—if only for relief. And when I’m in the presence of God more often, the Holy Spirit takes advantage of my brokenness to beam a light on areas of impurity. He can expose sin more readily because there’s less pride hindering the process.

For several weeks, I supplemented my prayers with meditation on Ps. 139:23–24. Along with pleas for help with melancholy, I started asking the Lord to search my heart.

 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Subtly, the focus of my prayers began to change. Before long, the tears I shed were a result of conviction, spawned by sensitivity to sin instead of by depression. I became increasingly conscious of a tendency to stretch the truth, of lustful thoughts that I’d rationalized as being inevitable for men, and of attitudes that kept me from greater intimacy with people close to me. Repentance wouldn’t have occurred if my heart had not first been crushed by depression.

I don’t know if God permits my despondency for the purpose of purifying me, but His cleansing work has been an outcome of it. A key factor has been persisting in prayer regardless of how I feel. Keeping the line of communication open with God prevents my heart from going cold and hard.

Pointing to God

Depression not only softens my heart, but I’ve discovered that it provides an opportunity for God to receive more glory through my life and ministry. We may think a person best glorifies God through devoted service or a demonstration of uncompromising character. No doubt we honor Him in those ways. But I’m convinced that God gets more glory when we’re needy, when we’re in a situation requiring His intervention.

The idea that God gets more glory through our weakness than through our strength is couched in Ps. 50:15: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” When we’re compelled to pray due to the limits of our own resourcefulness, God answers our plea or displays His power in some manner. The consequence is that we praise Him and testify before others of His faithfulness. Or others who see our perseverance and the fruit of our ministry salute Him, rather than us, since they’re aware of our shortcomings. Second Corinthians 12:9 reinforces this. Referring to the limitation imposed by Paul’s thorn in the flesh, God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Realizing that my need provides an opportunity for God to be magnified motivates me to pray when I’m depressed. I believe He will hear my plea because my situation offers an occasion for Him to act. It’s the Giver, not the recipient, who gets the glory. I feel confident that God will use me in ministry despite my despondency, since it gives Him a chance to do what only He can do.

Charles Spurgeon is a prime example of a person who honored God despite debilitating weakness. His first bout with depression occurred when he was 24. “My spirits were sunken so low that I could weep like a child, yet I knew not what I wept for,” reported the eloquent British preacher. The melancholy returned repeatedly throughout his life, leading him to admit, “Causeless depression cannot be reasoned with; . . . as well fight with the mist as with this shapeless, indefinable, yet all-beclouding hopelessness.” Despite bouts with despondency, Spurgeon made a huge impact on his generation as a preacher and an author. He understood that human need magnifies the sufficiency of God. Spurgeon wrote, “We shall bring our Lord most glory if we get from Him much grace.”

Spurgeon’s remark resonates with me, because I’m a man who is receiving much grace from God. If my life glorifies Him as a result, then even my depression serves a redemptive purpose.

Though bouts of depression persist, a ray of light often penetrates the darkness. I see the light in the promises of Scripture, in the faces of supportive friends, in the purifying work of God’s Spirit, and in the realization that my plight provides a prime opportunity for God to receive glory. Thanks to these means of sustenance and perspective, Mic. 7:8 rings true in my life: “Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.”

Endure Suffering – Not Until Deliverance, But Because GOD is Worthy

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Wendy Alsup

There is a moment in the story of Job that disturbs me when I read it. In Job 23, Job is at his lowest point. His children have died, he’s lost all of his money, and he’s covered in painful boils. Everything to which he has given himself in this life has become dust. His comforters don’t bring comfort. He says his complaint is bitter and cries that he doesn’t even know where to look for God. Job, a righteous man by God’s own account, is in a miserable place not by his own foolishness. Really, if anyone deserved serious comfort, by my system of accounting, it was Job.

But, after a long silence, when God finally speaks to Job in chapter 38, His words don’t fit the profile of what I think Job deserves to hear.

1Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: 2″Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. 4″Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.5Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?

God continues on this way for four chapters. “I am GOD, Job! I hung the stars in the sky, created the oceans and every animal in them. Can you do that?! I am all powerful and all knowing. Don’t act like you could possibly know better on any issue than I do.”

I would expect God to say something more comforting–at least as I define comfort. Something like nothing can separate us from the love of God. Or that God works all things together for our good. Or that they who wait on God mount up on wings like eagles. Or that He who began the good work in us will be faithful to complete it. But none of those promises are emphasized here.

Instead, to the guy who was probably at the lowest point of anyone ever named in Scripture, God says, “I am God. I am all powerful. And I know what I’m doing!”

I have been wrestling personally with God over some things in my own life. Recently, I seriously prayed for a word from Him–“God, give me something to make sense of this time in life. Help me know how to think about all this and how to respond in obedience.” I don’t know what I expected, but His word was pretty clear. “Without faith, it is impossible to please Me.” (Hebrews 11:6).

God didn’t tell me that my troubles would soon end or that things would make more sense soon. Instead, He said pretty forcefully, “Trust Me! Believe in Me. I hung the stars in the sky and I know what I’m doing.”

I am reminded that God never explained to Job on earth (at least according to the Scriptural account) the purpose for his suffering. As far as we know, Job didn’t know until heaven what all was going on behind the scenes. In fact, Job’s suffering had no earthly purpose at all. It was fully about proving the trustworthiness of God’s character in the heavenly places to Satan and his minions.

I am beginning to see that the primary point of long periods of silence by God during our earthly sorrows and suffering is that we show His worthiness of our belief and trust based fully on who He is and not on what things He gives us. Satan can’t believe we would trust God just based on His character and not on the blessings on earth He gives us. That’s Satan’s taunt–“They only worship you because you are good to them. They’d never worship you if you didn’t answer their prayers and take care of them like they expect.”

The truth is that true faith doesn’t worship God because God is good but because God is God.

We don’t endure because we expect deliverance but because He is worthy. And we will never fully clarify this in our own hearts until God stops fitting our definition of goodness and requires us to sit patiently at His feet without answering our prayers for a season. And even if that season lasts the remainder of our lives, He is worthy.

The other truth is that for no one in Scripture did that season last the rest of their lives. God’s promises ARE that He will complete the good work He began in our hearts. He will work all the hard circumstances for honest to goodness GOOD in our lives. And when we wait on Him to work, He lifts us up on wings as eagles.

But that isn’t why we trust Him, have faith in Him, or worship Him. We worship Him because He alone is God. And He is worthy.

Oddly enough, until God actually moved again in my life (and He did), those counterintuitive words from Him did minister great grace to me.

… my righteous ones will live by faith.  Heb. 10:38

Satan’s Favorite Lies: Five Ways The Enemy Deceives Believers

SOURCE:  Douglas Wendel/Discipleship Journal

During my years in the air force, the government spent a lot of money training us to understand and recognize the tactics of our enemies. Why? Because in warfare, you must know your adversary. What weapons does he have? How, when, and where will he use them? This information provides a critical edge in battle.

As Christians, we wage war against a spiritual enemy (2 Cor. 10:3–4, Eph. 6:12). Although Jesus defeated Satan on the cross, the devil still wreaks havoc in our lives, knowing that his time is short (Rev. 12:12). Peter described him as a “roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Satan loves to trip up our walks with God, tempting us to dishonor His name. How does he attempt to derail us? With his tricky lies.

Jesus said that when Satan lies, he speaks his native language (Jn. 8:44). Just as we all speak one language that comes naturally to us, so Satan is a natural liar. In fact, Jesus called him the “father of lies” (Jn. 8:44). If we hope to resist the enemy’s attacks, we must realize that Satan doesn’t fight fair. He is a master of the guerrilla warfare of deceit.

Here are five of Satan’s favorite lies and the truths of God’s Word that can empower us to stand firm when the enemy attacks.

Lie 1: “God is holding out on you.”

In Genesis 3, Eve stood at the crossroads of temptation and obedience. Satan had tempted her to eat the fruit God had forbidden, saying, “You will not surely die… For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (vv. 4–5). What was Satan saying to Eve? “God is holding out on you. He has something good He’s trying to keep from you!” Unfortunately Adam and Eve succumbed to Satan’s first lie.

Throughout most of my college years (I started college in my mid-20s), I struggled with being single. I knew God had my best interests in mind, as Jer. 29:11 describes: “For I know the plans I have for you …plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Yet at times my strong desire to marry tempted me to doubt God’s goodness, just as Eve had done. I wondered why His plans for me did not seem to include a good thing like marriage.

One lonely night I cried out to God over my inner struggle. Sitting among the dark, empty track bleachers of my university, I told Him about this temptation and then recommitted myself to doing His will—even if it meant staying single. A year later I found myself at the marriage altar, thanking God for the grace to believe in His goodness instead of Satan’s lie. I experienced His perfect timing in this area of my life as I trusted Him.

Sometimes our circumstances don’t seem to make any sense and fail to meet our expectations of life. In these moments, Satan tempts us to believe that God’s goodness obligates Him to gratify our desires immediately. But we must intentionally recall that God’s plans are always aimed at our best over the long term.

Lie 2: “Trust yourself.”

David wrote, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Ps. 20:7). Yet even the author of these words fell victim to another one of Satan’s lies: the lie of self-reliance. In 1 Chron. 21:1, Satan “incited David to take a census of Israel.” David responded to Satan’s suggestion by commanding Joab to count all the fighting men in Israel. Why did David give this order? He had begun to believe his security lay in the size of his army instead of the strength of the Lord. Satan tempted David to trust in numbers instead of God’s provision. Though he was a man after God’s heart, David failed to recognize Satan’s deception.

Because of David’s self-reliance, the whole nation of Israel suffered through a terrible plague. Likewise, when we rely solely on our own insight, it damages our walk with God and our relationships with others.

When I came on staff with The Navigators, I had to raise my salary by asking friends and relatives to give regularly to my ministry. But asking people for their financial support was not something I wanted to do. For months I resisted the idea of earning a living this way while I investigated other sources of income. My unwillingness to ask others for money kept me from moving forward in my calling.

Then one day God clearly spoke to me regarding my hesitance to trust Him. A college friend I had led to Christ years earlier was killed in a car accident. At his funeral, I realized the eternal impact God had allowed me to make in this man’s life. It was clear He was calling me to do the same in the lives of others. To pursue that mission, I needed to trust Him—not myself—to provide an income for my family.

That day I began to believe that God would meet our financial needs as He promised in Phil. 4:19: “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Today, I wonder how well I would be fulfilling my calling if I had continued to believe Satan’s lie of self-reliance instead of depending upon God.

Lie 3: “You will never suffer as a Christian.”

Another one of Satan’s favorite lies tells us nothing difficult will ever happen to us as Christians. When we believe this lie, it sows seeds of self-pity into our hearts that bloom into bitterness when trials overwhelm us.

In Matthew 16, Jesus told His disciples He would suffer and die in Jerusalem. When Peter heard these words, he emphatically rebuked Him, “Never, Lord! …This shall never happen to you!” (v. 22). Jesus replied,

Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.—v. 23

Jesus recognized Satan’s seductive suggestion in Peter’s words because He knew God’s plan for His life included suffering.

Several years ago, my wife gave birth to our premature son, Jonathan. Our hearts ached for Jonathan as he fought for life in the weeks following his birth. After five long months, we brought him home from the hospital. Our house became an intensive care unit full of oxygen tanks, beeping monitors, and medication. We cared for him around the clock, enduring months of little sleep.

Yet even in our exhaustion, we never questioned God or quit. Why? Because we sincerely believed Paul’s promise in Ro. 8:28: “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Even in our difficult circumstances, we trusted God would accomplish His good purpose in our lives.

God doesn’t promise that suffering will never touch our lives. In fact, He says the opposite. In Jas. 1:2, we are told, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Notice James says “whenever,” not if we face trials. Difficult circumstances will sift all of our lives. But God allows these trials so that we may be “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (v. 4).

God uses trials to shape our character and conform it to His own. That process equips us to reach out with compassion to a lost and hurting world.

Lie 4: “Money is the key to happiness.”

Satan knows the powerful lure of riches. He promised earthly extravagance to Jesus in an attempt to turn Him from the Father (Mt. 4:8–9). Jesus replied, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only” (v. 10). Satan is well aware of how greed takes our focus off God. The Apostle Paul verified this when he wrote, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10).

Recently, we sold our home for a profit. Though I had intended to tithe from the additional income, moving to another state delayed my giving. Instead, I put the money in an interest-bearing account until we could buy a new house.

But temptation crept in, and I began to think about how I could make the money grow faster. Periodically I thought of making the tithe, but the idea would slip away with my lack of action.

Finally, God spoke to me one morning through Mal. 3:10.

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this …and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

Within a few days the Lord showed me how much and where to give. I released the tithe I should have given months earlier. The next week we got a phone call. Some Christian friends outside our city had suddenly decided to move and wanted to sell their house and small acreage to us if we were interested. They thought the property might be a great place for our ministry and family. We were amazed. God wanted to bless us in a greater way but did not do so until I gave back to His work. Listening to Satan’s lie of greed could have short-circuited God’s plan for blessing.

God may bless us with earthly riches. If He does, we need to hold them with an open hand before Him. But when we say yes to the enemy’s lie and no to God, Satan’s promises will certainly be accompanied by a load of heartache. A lifetime of mammon is not worth shipwrecking our faith on the reef of earthly riches (Mt. 6:24).

Lie 5: “You can never forgive them.”

Finally, Satan attempts to derail us with the lie that we can’t forgive those who’ve wounded us severely. A respected Christian leader recently said that with the exception of sexual immorality, he’s seen more men and women drop out of the Christian life because of unforgiveness than any other factor. In the early days of the church, Paul also understood how unforgiveness separated believers. In 2 Cor. 2:7, 11, he urged believers to “forgive and comfort [the offender] …in order that Satan might not outwit us.”

How does Satan outwit us through unforgiveness? Someone once said that bitterness is a poison you drink hoping the other person dies. Refusal to forgive invites bitterness into our hearts, poisoning everything in our lives. It eats away at our souls and robs us of the joy and satisfaction God gives through our relationships with Him and others.

Unforgiveness divides people. As long as forgiveness is withheld, a wall of separation exists between two parties. Satan uses festering grievances to kill fellowship among believers and to thwart the work of God.

Several years ago I lost my job. The pain and humiliation left me bitter toward my former supervisor. Whenever she came to mind in the months that followed, anger flared up within me. One day the Lord spoke to me through Eph. 4:32: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” As I meditated on how much Christ had forgiven me, I realized I needed to let go of my bitterness and forgive her. Although the healing process took several years, today I can think of her with peace and genuine concern for her welfare.

The road to forgiveness begins by remembering how much we have been forgiven ourselves. When we recognize our own unworthiness before the Lord, the sweet love of God can flow again from our hearts toward others. Forgiveness is the oil that keeps our souls from burning up in the friction of our relationships.

Truly, our battle is “not against flesh and blood, but against …the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). The Bible promises God will have the final victory over Satan and his demons. Until that time, may we resist Satan’s lies by standing firm on the truths in God’s Word.

If God Is Good, Why Is There So Much Suffering in the World?

SOURCE:  Bob and Gretchen Passantino/Discipleship Journal/NavPress

People frequently challenge Christians with the problem of a good God allowing suffering. Usually their argument says, “If God is all-powerful, He could prevent or eliminate suffering. If God is all-good, He would not want His creation to suffer. Since you say God is both, suffering should not exist. Yet we see suffering all around us and experience it ourselves. Therefore, God doesn’t exist, or He’s not all-powerful, or He’s not all-good.”

Any time we come up against this question, we need to discern why the person is asking it. Is the person a skeptic? Or is the person or someone close to them suffering? When someone is suffering, all the logic and truth in the world is incomplete without a demonstration of compassionate love. For our purposes here, we will assume the person is a skeptic.

In dealing with a skeptic, first consider the consequences of accepting the skeptic’s alternatives: Suffering proves that God does not exist, or He is not all-powerful, or He is not all-good. If God does not exist, then all of existence, including our suffering, has no enduring value, purpose, or goal. If God is not all-powerful, then we have no hope that suffering will ever be eliminated. If God is not all-good, then He must be a sadist. Each of these alternatives is problematic, so the skeptic has merely exchanged one answer he doesn’t like for others equally unpleasant.

Next, we need to understand that many problems with theology come from problems with personal worldviews and values. Many people struggle with the problem of God and suffering because they reject a Christian worldview. Avoiding suffering is preferred to learning patience; immediate gratification means more than self-discipline; self-gratification is more important than sharing; and physical pleasure is superior to spiritual joy. But making sense of suffering and a loving God can only be done by explaining the Christian worldview.

If the Christian worldview is considered, there are a variety of approaches to the question of God and suffering. Biblical convictions include (1) suffering does not originate with God and will be eliminated at some point; (2) God works good in the midst of suffering; (3) not all pain is bad in the moral sense; (4) and physical, transient suffering and death are relatively inconsequential compared to spiritual, eternal suffering and death.

The Bible says that suffering in the world is the consequence of the sin of the two original human parents, Adam and Eve. Romans 5:12–21 and Ro. 8:20–21 teach that suffering, even suffering of various kinds and far removed in history from them, is a result of their original sin.

If God always prevented people from sinning (whether Adam and Eve or those whose sin causes suffering today), or always prevented the consequences of sin, then human goodness would be mere programming, not true goodness. We do not pat a computer on its head when it executes its program; it is a determined function, not an exercise of moral responsibility. Suffering, the consequence of human sin, is not caused by God, but by the sin of persons with moral responsibility.

Also, God has not abandoned the world to eternally suffer the consequences of sin. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to provide ultimate freedom from the consequences of sin. It is wrong to indict God because suffering is not yet eliminated, just as it would be wrong to indict a doctor who treats a gunshot wound he didn’t cause, simply because the wound is not healed instantly.

Our assurance that God will eliminate suffering is not the only comfort God gives us. While God did not cause suffering, He has given it purpose. It became the vehicle for our salvation through “Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Heb. 12:2).

Through suffering we can learn patience, self-discipline, trust, and a number of other virtues. When we suffer we can experience the love, compassion, and self-denial of those who help us. When we help someone who is suffering, we find significance in our own lives as well.

Not all pain is “bad” in the moral sense. God created us with nerve endings that use pain to protect us. Pain keeps us from burning our hands in a campfire, bending our legs back until the joints break, neglecting nourishment until we starve, etc. Suffering can also be a direct, just consequence of our own actions. Our sense of justice says that it is “good” when an exploiter loses his friends, even though loneliness is “painful.” It is good when a mugger is locked up, even though he “suffers” the loss of his freedom.

All humans have a moral conscience, even if it is corrupted by sin and often ignored. Our conscience should not rejoice in sin, suffering, and death. When we see innocents suffering, we should experience moral outrage and seek to rescue the sufferer. When we see someone suffer death, we should experience loss and sorrow. Sin, suffering, and death are not the destinies for which God created us. He created us to enjoy perfect, good, loving fellowship with Him for eternity. Despite our moral betrayal, He continues to offer eternal life.

The skeptic has it partly right: Suffering should offend our sense of goodness and justice. Sadly, he misses the rest of the argument: Because suffering violates goodness and justice, there must be an all-good, all-powerful God whose remedy restores the perfection He created. This is the hope that the Christian offers in the midst of suffering: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed” (Ro. 8:18–19).

Suffering and death in this sinful world are not without remedy. The only reasonable response to the existence of suffering is confidence in God’s promises for eternity: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. . . . Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. . . . Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:4, Mt. 5:7, Mt. 5:10).

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