Archive for January, 2015|Monthly archive page

Joyful in pain

Is it possible to rejoice in God when you’re in pain?

The apostle Paul says it is and he was a living example.  He was stoned and left for dead; he was whipped unmercifully and thrown into prison; he nearly died in a shipwreck.  And yet, he calls on all believers to praise God and give thanks in all circumstances. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

I was thinking of these things this week as I spent time with a friend who finds it hard to think of anything but the constant pain he is suffering.

I have never gone through the suffering my friend has faced for several years. So, I recognized I had no right to speak to him about praising God in these circumstances.

Yet, what alternative is there for a believer who is deeply depressed by his illness?  More than anything, he needs God and the hope God ultimately brings.

Thankfully, my friend raised the subject himself, mentioning that someone told him he should stop complaining and be positive.

I find that hard advice.  The psalms are full of mental and emotional pain and Job is a book of disasters striking a fine, blameless man.  The Bible does not ignore suffering or wish it away.

But Psalm 42 pictures how we should approach our inner agonies.  The writer cries out to God in the midst of tears, wondering where he is in the midst of his troubles.  He is honest.

Then, he tells himself: “Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my saviour and my God.”

It is very hard to do this when your physical or emotional pain dominates your thoughts.  But it is possible.  Many have done it.  And the results can be transforming.

In his book The Power of Praise and Worship, evangelist Terry Law tells how devastated he was when his wife was killed in a car accident.  He was bitter against God and wanted to abandon his ministry.

A much-respected mentor, who had lost a son, told him to praise God.  He was thunderstruck and resisted the suggestion.  But the following day he decided to try praising the Lord.

He began mechanically praying the words from Psalm 34:1: “I will bless the Lord at all times.” This went on for more than two hours before an inner dam broke and he wept.  For several hours more, he was on his knees praising and worshiping God.

As he put it: “Obedience in praise and worship had brought healing to my inner man.”

Praising and worshiping God became a central part of his international ministry with many coming to the Lord.

When the focus turns from ourselves to God, we are changed.


Tuning into God

A man I know is racked by pain and desperately seeking God’s divine healing.

He wonders why God isn’t healing him – and I can’t give him an easy answer.

It is a common question.  And many believers lose their faith because their cries for help appear to be in vain.

I find myself in the middle between those who claim everyone must be healed by God and those who say only a few chosen ones will be healed – if healing is even for today.

I am convinced that God heals today just as he did in Jesus’ time.  But I am reluctant to say that God heals everyone automatically.

I believe God works through doctors to bring healing as well as through divine intervention.  The apostle Paul advised his disciple Timothy to use a home remedy – wine – to cure a stomach ailment.  And one of his closest companions – Luke – was a doctor.

But what do you do when doctors are seemingly unable to help?  That’s what my friend is up against – nothing his doctors have recommended have dealt with the pain and the wasting disease in his body.

So he is turning to God.  He admits he was not a church-goer until recent years, but now he watches healing programs on television avidly.

I see faith in God as a key element in most of Jesus’ healing miracles.  But, I note as well that some miracles happened without evident faith by the people involved.  An example is Jesus coming upon a funeral procession and raising a young man to life without being asked. (Luke 7:11-15)

Still, faith is important.  There is ample evidence in the world today of miraculous healing as a result of people putting their faith in God.

One factor which may stand in the way of divine healing is unforgiveness.  And unconfessed sin is another.

Sometimes, too, God may choose to answer a prayer for healing years after the illness struck.  Jesus healed a man who had been lame for 38 years (John 5).

But even when all these issues are dealt with, some people are not healed.

John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard movement and used by God in healing people, said publicly that he had prayed for healing from a heart condition repeatedly without being healed.

In the end, I must trust God knows what he is doing.  His ways are indeed higher than my ways.

Far more important than my health is my relationship with Jesus.  Do I believe he loves me no matter what trials I face?  Do I believe he has my good at heart as the apostle Paul assures me in Romans 8:28?

I do.

In God’s hands

A friend of mine is depressed by the state of the world – he fears what the future holds for his grandchildren.

He talks about Islamic extremism, terrorism in general, hints of global conflict, and plagues like Ebola.

Perhaps I’m a Pollyanna, but these things don’t bother me in the same way.

In my view, we have always had wars and plagues.  I can’t do much about them.  And death comes to all of us – me included – at some point.

Like most people, I was shocked by the recent terrorist attacks in Canada and France.  But anyone acquainted with history knows that wanton killings of this kind aren’t new.  The political reasons for terrorism may change, but the acts are much the same.

Readers of the Bible are familiar with the wars in the Old Testament.  Losers were slaughtered or carted off as slaves to the victorious nations.

I hope none of this happens to our country.  My prayer is that our children and grandchildren will never face what is going on in the Middle East.

But I rejoice that my wife and I and our children and their spouses all belong to God.  Our eternal future is assured.

Whatever troubles we encounter now will vanish when we are with Jesus in heaven.  As the Bible says, there will be no more tears.

I admit I am speaking as an old man.  My family responsibilities have diminished.

I haven’t stopped worrying – but my worries are about more trivial things than world events.  I worry – usually needlessly – about things that are more or less in my control.

Jesus told his followers to expect trouble.  He told them that the Holy Spirit would give them the words to speak when they were hauled before the authorities for their faith.

He also said that some of them – even the great apostle Peter – would die for their faith in him.

That didn’t stop them from boldly declaring the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection to bring people into the kingdom of God.  Many praised and worshiped God even as they were being persecuted.

They knew their relationship with God was the most precious thing they had.  Nobody could take that away from them.

They knew they were in God’s hands.

I know that, too.

Draw near

Drawing near to God is both dangerous and life-changing.

The evil one and his followers run from our holy God.  But those who want to know him are changed forever as they come close to him – and obey.

To be honest, there is a little of me in both camps.  My heart wants to know him as Moses did, but part of me is afraid of what that means – total commitment.

I am not into New Year’s resolutions.  But, if I were, I can’t think of a better resolution for me: Draw closer to God!

Moses is a good example of what happens when you draw near to God.  Images of Moses at the burning bush and receiving the 10 commandments on Mount Sinai pop into my mind.

When God spoke from the burning bush in Exodus 3, Moses covered his face because he was afraid to look at God – he was on holy ground.  He initially offered various excuses for not obeying God’s command to speak to Pharaoh.  But eventually he ran out of excuses and obeyed.

I sympathize with Moses.  I feel inadequate, too.

But, by the time Moses spoke with God on Mount Sinai, he was a different man.  He had obeyed God and the Lord brought him through some tough and dangerous times.

In Exodus 34, we read that Moses’ face was radiant when he came down from the mountain with the stone tablets containing the 10 commandments.  He had met God and the experience was transforming.

The great promise in James 4:8 is that God will draw near to us when we draw near to him.  We will experience God in a deeper way.  We will be changed.