When Suffering Doesn’t Go Away

You may have read the story or seen the movie of Joni Eareckson Tada, a woman who because of a diving accident became a quadriplegic at the age of 17. As you can well imagine, when the accident happened she struggled. Since God is all-powerful, why hadn’t He prevented the accident? Or, why didn’t He heal her paralysis?

People would remind her that Romans 8:28 says God works all things together for good–a Bible verse often quoted to those in hard-to-explain circumstances. Sometimes the verse is a comfort, but often what the person needs at that particular time is not to know that good is going to come out of tragedy but that God is still there with them even through the pain–and that He cares.

Joni tells that while many prayed for her to be healed, she came to the realization that getting out of suffering is not the only solution. We paint ourselves into a corner when we insist that God must remove our suffering or we can never be happy again.

Joni says she has learned that attitude can make a tremendous difference in how a person copes with pain that just doesn’t go away. She writes, “A Christian may not be able to rule their life situation, but they can rule their hearts.”[1]Joni’s life proves it is possible to have an attitude that brings happiness even in the middle of pain.

            If you are undergoing suffering right now, pray this prayer: Lord, I want you to take away this pain I’m going through.  But if You don’t, I’m determined to find happiness in You. I am determined that You, not circumstances, will be the source of my peace and joy.



Finishing Your Course

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day.” 2 Timothy 4:7-8 NASB

To observers, Eric Liddell clearly was an outstanding athlete. He was born on this day in 1902 in China, where his parents were missionaries. When he was five, his family returned to their native Scotland, where he competed in countless contests, consistently winning. His skills were so extraordinary that he was named to the Olympic team in 1924. Many expected him to contend for a medal.

His plans changed when the preliminary races for his best event in those Olympics were scheduled for Sunday, July 6. This day presented no complications for most athletes. Even those with strong Christian commitments might have been willing to race on Sunday in this once-in-a-lifetime event.

But Liddell would not compromise. So while others competed in a race for which he had trained his whole life, Liddell was preaching in a Paris church.

He was able to compete in other events, winning the bronze medal in the 200-meter sprint and the gold in the 400-meter race. But his testimony has endured and provided a powerful example.

In 1924, Liddell returned to China, where he devoted his life to missionary work. He had the right priorities and made his life count for God.

Today, think about your priorities. What are you doing with your time, talent, and treasure? Is your focus on earthly rewards? Or are you focusing on God’s Kingdom?

Do not compromise. Make a total commitment to God. Make your life count for eternity.

Prayer:  Father, help me to have the right priorities. I dedicate my life and everything I have to You. Use me to impact lives for Your Kingdom. In Jesus’ name. Amen.



Satisfaction

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6 NASB

“Money Can’t Buy Happiness.” The conclusion of an exhaustive study published by the American Psychological Association. This study found that “money leads to autonomy, but it does not add to well-being or happiness.”

Once basic needs are met, “more money leads to marginal gains at best.” As people increase their earnings, they tend to become more competitive. They lose perspective and focus more on “keeping up with the Joneses.”

We see these kinds of patterns every day, driven by a culture that encourages us to feel dissatisfied. Compelled to possess what we don’t have. To crave more.

In practical terms, there are justifiable reasons to buy “new” things. Yet the problem is not with things but our hearts. With our attitudes and expectations. The Bible urges us to remember what happens so easily to our money: “What good is wealth except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers!” (Ecclesiastes 5:11 NLT).

Jesus taught that the only people who really are satisfied aren’t obsessed with things, but those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Who place a higher emphasis on doing what is right than on what they own. Who are focused on the quality of life rather than the quantity of possessions.

In your life, seek to keep your eyes on God. Trust Him to supply every need. Seek first His Kingdom. Ask Him to help you do what is right in every situation. Practice contentment and a spirit of thankfulness. As you seek His Kingdom and do what is right, God promises more of His blessings…and lasting satisfaction.

Prayer

Father, thank You for all that You have given me. Help me to hunger and thirst for righteousness. Thank You for helping me be content. In Jesus’ name. Amen.



Devotions: Not Confusing The Means For The End

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me…”

John 5:39 NASB

These words of Jesus carry a startling implication: we can be people intensely in the scriptures and still miss everything.

Everything.

This means that we can do devotions every single day this year… and still miss everything… And still not have really lived.

So how do we not do this? How do we not confuse the means for the end?

1. Remember, Christ is the Prize.

First of all, we must know that the end we’re seeking after is God himself (Phil. 3:14). You and I are seeking life, which is union with God himself.

Christianity is not a good moral code nor simply a different way to live. Christianity is union with the Divine. Two lives fused into one. This is what we’re after. Who we’re after.

2. Remember, Life is Entered through Glory

If life is union with God (yes, think marriage union), we enter and experience it by receiving his glory. (Rom. 1:17, 5:17, 6:4; 2 Cor. 3:18)

Glory, in the Greek (doxa) literally means “opinion.” You and I need to know that God’s glory is literally his opinion. Since God is love, his opinion of us is only always love.

When we receive the perfect love he has for us by faith, we live in his love, and he lives in us. This is union with God!

This is the eternal life.

God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:16)

3. Remember, Life is Realized by Faith

But how do we abide in God who is love? By exercising faith, and only by exercising faith.

Everything in scripture—in both testaments—points to God’s perfect love for us. And everything in scripture—in both testaments—directs us to believe it. The most scripturally educated in Jesus’ day missed this. If they can miss this, so we can we.

When you and I are spending time in the scriptures during our devotional time this year, may we be looking for the truth of his perfect love for us. And may we respond with faith.

“It is they that testify of me,” Jesus said. (Jn. 5:39)

Yes, indeed.

Conclusion

Oh that we’d follow the scriptures’ testimony all the way up and into Christ this year! Oh that Christ would dwell in our hearts through faith this year! Oh that we’d be strengthened to comprehend the vastness of his infinite love for us this year! Oh that we’d come to know his perfect love which surpasses knowledge this year! Oh that we’d be filled increasingly to the fullness of God who is love this year! (Eph. 3:14-19)

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Eph. 3:20-21)



The Fruit of Grace

When John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus Christ appeared on earth, God’s people had been under the law of Moses for fifteen hundred years. Little wonder John and his Master looked for fruit among them.

When the hypocritical religious leaders came to join John’s growing audience and asked to be baptized, John called them a “generation of vipers” and bade them “bring forth… fruits meet for repentance” (Matt. 3:7,8). True repentance, with fruit to prove it, was the basic requirement of the kingdom John proclaimed. This is evident from his declaration:

“And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Matt. 3:10).

Our Lord appeared, proclaiming the same message as John, and also sought for fruit among His people (Matt. 7: 16-20; 21:33-43). We know, however, that John the Baptist was beheaded and Christ crucified. The fruit produced under the Law was meager indeed. Even after the resurrection of Christ the majority of His people refused to repent and failed to bring forth the required fruit.

But what the Law requires grace provides. It was at this time that God raised up the Apostle Paul, whose “preaching of the cross” showed that Christ had not died an untimely death, but in infinite love had come into the world to die for sinners so that they might be saved by grace, through faith (Eph. 2:8,9). Paul’s message was called “the gospel [good news] of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), and where the Law had failed to bring forth fruit, grace brought it forth abundantly.

God’s grace in Christ, when accepted in true faith, always brings forth good fruit. Thus Paul wrote to the Colossians that his good news was going forth into all the world, adding: “and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you since… ye knew the grace of God in truth” (Col. 1:5,6 cf. Rom. 6: 21,22).

Accept God’s message of grace, trust in Christ as your Savior and He will help you to produce the fruit.



God Means It For Good

After a lengthy bout with despair, severe depression, and suicide attempts, writer and poet William Cowper (1731–1800) discovered comfort in God’s providence, which led him to write “Shining out of Darkness”:

God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works his sovereign will.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face.

Can you think of instances in your own life, with the advantage of 20-20 hindsight, wherein someone or something meant evil against you, “but God meant it for good”? Thank and praise Him for it—and for His continual providence.



Hindrances in Prayer

James 1:6-8

If we have an inaccurate perspective of God, it could cause us to think that He isn’t interested in our needs and concerns. On the contrary, the Lord invites us to pray, because He delights in providing for us—and He stands ready to do so. However, different types of hindrances can block the effectiveness of our prayers.

Ignorance of God’s will for our life and the specific circumstances we are facing is one such obstacle. His affirmative answers come when our petitions are in agreement with His purposes for us (1 John 5:14-15). Even if Scripture does not specifically address our situation, we can always ask the Lord to fill us with “the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col. 1:9). 

Selfish motives are another hindrance to answered prayer (James 4:3). Sometimes we’re more concerned about getting the Lord to do what we want than we are about submitting to His will in the situation.

Doubts about God and His faithfulness also keep us from experiencing answered prayer. Low expectations and uncertainty are like intruders in our conversations with Him because they short-circuit faith. Doubts may originate from listening to the wrong voices, embracing false beliefs, or focusing on the difficulty instead of the power, wisdom, and faithfulness of the Lord.

Effective prayer begins with trust in God and an awareness of His ways. Otherwise, skepticism may sneak into our thinking if He delays His answer or responds in an unexpected way. But when our prayers are aligned with His will and motivated by a desire to glorify Him, doubts will vanish.



When The Truth Catches Up

What do you do when you’ve messed up? At work you might go back to the drawing board and start from the beginning. Did you miss calculate or overlook some detail? When a relationship has been bruised and trust broken, you might go back to that person looking for a fresh start. What about in your spiritual journey? What do you do when you fall short, stumble or fail? We need to go back to our spiritual roots, back to the beginning.

Abraham understood this. Feeling the effects of a devastating drought in the region, Abraham moved his family to Egypt. But out of fear, he conspired with his wife, Sarah, for her to pretend to be his sister. Abraham feared that Pharaoh would have him killed to be with Sarah. Well, that little lie caused chaos to break loose as Pharaoh decided to make Sarah his wife. Luckily, God intervened. You see, God’s plan was to bring about a great nation through Abraham and Sarah. In spite of Abraham’s lack of faith, his fear – God stepped in and put them back on track.

So, here was Abraham having failed big time in his faith. Not only did God have to bail him out, but he was publicly humiliated and embarrassed by a pagan king. Is there any recovery from this bad judgment call? What did he do? He went back to his spiritual roots, to Bethel, the place where he had worshiped the Lord– back to the beginning of his faith journey.

When’s the last time a crisis overwhelmed you with fear? In spite of God’s past faithfulness, you decide to take matters into your own hands. What was the outcome?

The good news in Abraham’s failure is God’s redemption. The same redemption offered to us no matter the magnitude of our mistake. So, when you fail in your walk with God, where do you go? What is your Bethel – your spiritual roots? Confess your sin to God and ask Him to forgive you. I promise He will. And like Abraham, you’ll discover what it’s like to have your relationship with God restored.



Now Just Don’t Sit There!

An old year has completed its course. A new year is smiling at us with twelve months of the unknown. An entire ocean of possibilities, including both sun-drenched days and a few storms with howling winds and giant waves, stretch out across the uncharted waters. If we let ourselves, we could become so afraid of the potential dangers, so safety conscious, we would miss the adventure.

That’s one option, of course—becoming a beach-dwelling couch potato, someone who looks toward the horizon, entertains a few thoughts that start with “Someday . . . ” or “In a year or two I’m gonna . . . ” but then leans back and just keeps looking. What if Christopher Columbus had been content to build sandcastles along the shores of Spain?

Now, admittedly, some go a little nuts when they decide a change is needed. Larry Walters did. The thirty-three-year-old truck driver had been sitting around doing zilch week in, week out, until boredom got the best of him. That was back in the summer of ’82. He decided enough was enough; what he needed was an adventure. So, on July 2 of that year he rigged forty-two helium-filled weather balloons to a Sears lawn chair in San Pedro, California, and lifted off. Armed with a pellet gun to shoot out a few balloons should he fly too high, Walters was shocked to reach 16,000 feet rather rapidly. He wasn’t the only one. Surprised pilots reported seeing “some guy in a lawn chair floating in the sky” to perplexed air-traffic controllers.

Finally, Walters had enough sense to start shooting a few balloons, which allowed him to land safely in Long Beach some forty-five minutes later. When asked why he did such a weird thing, Walters usually gave the same answer: “It was something I had to do . . . I couldn’t just sit there.”

Between doing nothing and trying something that ridiculous, there’s a wide expanse worth probing. Think of the dozens of things God is going to teach us and the many ways we are going to see Him work in the coming year!

But I should warn you, you will have to change . . . and that won’t come easily. Mark Twain was correct when he said, “The only one who likes change is a wet baby.”

Breaking out of old, tired routines is one of the secrets for staying young and energetic.

In 2019, let’s promise each other not to become so afraid of potential dangers that we miss God’s adventures.



Spectator or Participant?

Romans 12:9-13

There’s something in human nature that resists having to lean on others for support. In fact, since its very beginnings, our country has been known for an independent spirit and self-sufficiency. But what may be considered beneficial in a national culture is not what Christ advocates for His church. Although we are each saved individually, the Lord doesn’t intend for us to live as if we’re on an island—set apart to ourselves. We are called the body of Christ, and as such, our lives are meant to touch, intersect, and connect with other believers in a local church.

The various ways we support one another are summarized in today’s passage, and they cover a large range of experiences, from rejoicing to suffering. No matter where we find ourselves on this spectrum, God calls us to be devoted to one another through service, prayer, and hospitality. Paul also specifies the attitudes we should have as we care for each other: sincere love, unselfishness, honor, diligence, and eagerness.

As you can see, the church is a place for participants, not spectators. Yet many Christians today think this kind of involvement in others’ lives is too costly. So they come on Sunday, stand to sing, sit to listen, and walk out to get back to their own lives. The term “spectator Christian” doesn’t apply only to those who deliberately avoid going to church. In fact, many churches are filled with observant attendees who sit in the pews each week but never touch a fellow believer’s life. What about you? Are you a spectator seeking what you can get or a participant looking for ways to give to someone else?