Tag Archives: encouragement

What I’m Learning From Unanswered Prayer

For 62 years, prayer has been an indispensable part of my life. Admittedly, it has often been either formal or hurried, weak or stumbling. I’m no model of a praying Christian. But like many believers I’ve often pondered the mystery of unanswered prayer.

After all, Jesus said, “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24). But Lord, why didn’t you answer my plea for X’s salvation or my healing? Oh, I know the standard answer; “God always answers, either yes, no, or wait awhile.” I believe there is at least another reason.

Let me give you some personal background that has led me to this conclusion. Five or six months ago the date was set for my knee surgery. We immediately began to pray for results that did not include complications, as surgery on the other knee had been accompanied by problems. The surgery took place. The surgeon was pleased. Everything seemed good. But shortly we realized that it was infected. Dealing with the infection delayed healing for some time. Why Lord did this happen? Was the answer to our prayers a simple, no? And why did you not answer our plea?

In the months that followed, prayer for ability to sleep at night was also put on the unanswered prayer pile. What’s going on Lord? Do you not want my joy to be full?

Let me be clear. As a couple, Mary Helen and I have no right to complain to God. He has blessed us in abundant and unusual ways. And my quibble about pain and sleeplessness is minor compared to those who suffer with cancer or debilitating diseases or deal with a tragedy. I’m just trying to understand the many invitations in Scripture to bring our requests to our heavenly Father with the assurance of an answer. So what am I learning?

PATIENCE: God has laid bare my impatience. Why do I have to keep relearning lessons about patience? Have I taken my supposed maturity for granted? Unfortunately, for most of us, patience is something we have to keep relearning. And we can’t develop it without going through trying situations. “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials. Knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:3).

EMPATHY: I’m also learning empathy for others, especially those who suffer. This will be a hard lesson. I’m not a very empathetic person. I don’t like hospitals. I don’t even want to go near them. But many in my age group have to visit doctors and hospitals often. And each of us need encouragement, comfort and love. I’ve got a lot to learn about compassion and without it I’m not much use in the kingdom. Paul reminds us of a related reason God sends tribulations into our lives. “The Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3). We face troubles so we can understand and empathize with the troubles of others.

WHERE TO GO FOR HELP: I’m also trying to remember that I should lean on God for help more than on my own grit, experience, gifts, and abilities. During my missionary and pastoral career, I often faced tasks beyond my ability. During those years several key verses encouraged me to believe that the very unlikely could happen. One was, “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13). Another pointed me to the source of help. “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). God has worked in wonderful ways down through the years. But I wonder today, how much was His work and how much was me trying to accentuate my own efforts and abilities. I’m realizing more clearly, that when Jesus says, “you can do nothing,” He really means it. We may be able to build a chicken coop or send a man to the moon, but we cannot accomplish anything positive for the Kingdom without His help. And before we realize that we have face to situations where nothing we do works.

FAITH: Christians know that faith is foundational. In the case of a leper and a centurion (in Matthew 8) who came to Jesus, their faith led them to trust him for healing. But faith, as in the case of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, does not always lead to healing. Abraham and the other patriarchs trusted God’s promises of a glorious future—not for them but their descendants. I wonder if for many of us today, faith requires us to trust God in the dark. Trusting God even when our requests are not met. Walking with God in apparent darkness, sure of our ultimate destination. We are to, “walk by faith not by sight.” We need to be able to say, “though He slay me, [doesn’t answer my prayer] yet will I trust him.”

Trusting God during periods when He seems distant or silent is not something unusual. Think of slaves trusting God in their misery. Think of Christians wallowing in foxholes during wartime. Think of Christians waiting for healing in cancer wards.

Why doesn’t God always answer our prayers? Often it is because He knows that we will learn more about Christian living and walking by faith if He doesn’t respond to our every request. When He seems silent, He is probably working to make us more Christ-like in patience, faith, compassion, and a host of other godly characteristics. Lord, help me to learn more and grumble less. Help me to accept these tough but necessary lessons in discipleship.

How do you respond to this blog? Do you agree or disagree? Do you have something to add to this meditation?

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When subtraction equals multiplication

dscn3701-2We find ourselves in this 55th year of our marriage extremely wealthy. Oh, we don’t own a yacht, or many stocks and bonds. We are struggling to fulfill the conditions for one small mortgage on a little condo. We have a car from 2004—which runs very well, by the way. We don’t winter on the Riviera nor take round-the-world cruises; but we are extremely well-off.

How is that possible? Let me go back a few years. Back to when we were about 19. When Mary Helen and I didn’t know the other existed. We separately, a thousand miles apart, were moved to faith in Jesus Christ. We confessed our sins, bowed to the Lordship of Christ and were born again.

My growth was slow; two steps forward and one step back. But early on, due to the godly mentor-ship of more mature Christians, I was led to become a committed follower of Christ. Although different in detail, Mary Helen’s experience was similar.  Both of us independently felt the call of God to give up our secular pursuit of success and prepare for overseas missionary service. (This, of course, is not the experience of all Christians, many of whom He calls to demonstrate godly discipleship in secular occupations. He doesn’t call all to missionary or Christian service.)

But in our case, he led both of us to go to Columbia University in preparation for missionary service among Muslims. It was there we met, sensed our similar callings, and fell in love.

In the course of our Christian walk, we both had been confronted with the challenge of Jesus Christ. “If any man would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross DSCN1448daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). That means subtraction. All genuine Christians have to learn subtraction—to subtract from their lives a passion to fulfill the desires of the world, the flesh, and the devil; to subtract selfishness; to subtract choices that contradict God’s revealed will; to subtract a determination to follow a course of life that leads us to our own glory…and so on. We cannot be followers of Christ without serious subtraction.

Like other disciples, Mary Helen and I independently and together, repeatedly sought to surrender our wills to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Surrender, subtraction, was often a struggle. It scared us to think of leaving North America as missionaries but the burden would not leave us. We often failed to be courageous and submissive to his leading. But ultimately, he led us to serve in Pakistan and then later in Ontario in a pastoral and writing ministry.

That meant we had to give up the dream of a home and retirement plan. But God had other OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAways of providing for us. An English woman, who had offered my father hospitality during the First World War when he was pilot, included us in her will with a small bequest.  When we were led from missions into pastoral ministry, we discovered that my mother had left us the family home in Toronto knowing we would never be able too own one. God provided in a multitude of ways.

God is no man’s debtor! As Paul reminds us in Romans 8, “He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things” (Rom. 8:32)?

As we look back now, we realize how much Jesus’ principle has proven true.  Jesus said, “No one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:29,30).

We have received many times more than we could ever have expected. What a return on a tiny investment. We enjoy connections with a huge missionary family. Love for Pakistan, a beautiful but needy country. Pakistani friends. Scores of friends in Australia, England, the US, and Canada. Wow, we are wealthy. In the kingdom, subtraction does mean multiplication!

 

Word Pictures of God as Our Helper – God’s Attributes #5

Beneath the beauty and bounty of our world, millions face trauma. Orphans long for love. scan0010Single mothers struggle to hold everything together. Unemployed cry out for a job. The poor cannot find housing. The exploited and abused live in fear. Refugees flee horrific atrocities. Our governments try to help but fall short. At times, even our families cannot help. Where can we turn?

The Nazarene offers an invitation. “Come unto me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Throughout the Scriptures God has illustrated his desire to help us in a series of vivid metaphors. The coming of Christ in human form is the most concrete Pattan Minara towerproof of his love and care. Here are a few other examples.

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe” (Prov. 18:10) Pursued by evil men or calamity, those who have been declared righteous by faith in Christ, seek God in prayer for safety and help. The towers men build crumble like this illustration, but God is changeless, eternally able to help.

Is your life being shaken? “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord who has compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:10) The eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried Pompei; earthquakes shake the Himalayas and the Rockies. Although the most stable things we know change, God’s love for His people never changes. (Just review John 3:16!)

Don’t know where to go for protection? The Psalmist cried, “I have no refuge” (Ps 142:4). At least 23 times Scripture responds, “The eternal God is your refuge” (Deut.33:27). God loves to care for and protect suffering people. Canada and others countries offer refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq the safety and security they need. We who follow Christ are involved OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAin that effort, but we long, as well, to point them to eternal refuge from the consequences of evil through faith in the suffering Saviour.

Feeling alone, unloved? “Hide me in the shadow of your wings” (Ps. 17:8). David imagines himself as a young bird hiding under the wings of an eagle or some kind of great raptor. Jesus comparing himself to a protective hen, laments the rejection he received from the inhabitants of Jerusalem. But the offer stands. “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Luke 13:34)!

Greece, ParthenonFeel threatened; unsafe? Up until modern times, threatened people fled for safety to castles and fortresses. Hence, the Psalmist describes his sense of God’s protection from evil and danger in these words. “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress” (Psalm 91:1,2).

In danger? Fleeing for his life from his murderous son, Absalom, David affirms, “you are a shield around me, O Lord” (Psalm 3:3). ”You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8). Not just a shield on one side, but above and behind and beside, God can protect His children from all evil. And so we pray, “Deliver us from evil.”DSCN2541

All those who have been born again by God’s Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ have become children of God. As such, the Triune God is very serious about protecting us. All the followers of Christ learn early that the first place they turn for help is God; our strong
tower, an unshakeable mountain, our refuge, a sheltering bird, our fortress, and much more. Lord Jesus help us to remember that your ear is ever open to our prayers. And help us to make your churches on earth to be a reflection of your concern and care.

(Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca –Follow him on Facebook: Eric E Wright; on Twitter: @EricEWright1 and on LinkedIn: Eric Wright )

The Power of Touch

A few days ago, I was brought to tears by a hug. We’ve been going through a challenging time. Mary Helen struggles to find relief from debilitating headaches brought on by a recent hit to the head. I’ve been frustrated with both knee and feet problems limiting mobility.Walking stick

The person who gave me the hug, inquired about how we were doing. Her empathy, offers of help, and specific questions about our situation, took me by surprise—but gave me immense encouragement. Not a lot of people ask questions or listen well. This woman does and she is younger than my daughter!

I try to keep my emotions under tight control. After all, I’m an Anglo-Saxon man from the era when men were taught to be strong and unemotional. We didn’t grow up with hugs in our home. We certainly didn’t tell each other “I love you”. Aside from my mother’s affection, that’s just the way it was in a home of four boys.

Over the years I’ve gradually mellowed under the influence of church friends and Mary Helen’s more caring personality. Our kids grew up to be more comfortable DSCN1642with hugs and statements of affection. And our grandkids are even more loving. Whenever we leave the home of those nearby, they always hug us and say, “I love you, grandpa; I love you, grandma.” Our first great-grandchild is even more affectionate. We get hugs coming and going!

And to think that I once tried to convince a congregation of huggers that I wasn’t the hugging type. Right after the service, when I mentioned this as part of a sermon illustration, one of the ladies came up and gave me a big hug! I must say that I’m still leery of inveterate huggers, but that act warmed my heart.

There is power in touch. A week or two ago, one of our deacons gripped me on the shoulder as he encouraged me. His gesture expressed his interest and concern. Much more commonly now, without every thinking about it, I touch people on the arm DSCN1641or the shoulder in an attempt to connect. I even parcel out hugs, somewhat grudgingly, I admit.

Words are certainly the most powerful vehicle of encouragement. But there is an important place for a strong handshake or a hug—whatever is encouraged in your community. It is common in many cultures for men to embrace each other once, twice, even three times. Our youngest son, born in Pakistan, insists on greeting me with three bear-hugs! Whether by word or touch, or hug or smile, we all need the assurance that others are interested in us. Concern and connection can often be expressed by touch. Didn’t the Apostle Paul urge Christians to “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (1 Cor. 16:20)?

(Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright )

Comfort for a Concussion Sufferer

Mary Helen suffered a painful concussion several years ago. Recently, another bang on the head brought back headaches which seem erratic and very difficult to DSCN1515control. However, through it all, she has found the most comfort from talking to the LORD; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These were her thoughts as she wondered down a path in the autumn of that first concussion.

Oh, what bliss to be in your presence, Father…To know that you care.

Lord Jesus, you have promised to never leave me nor forsake me. Thank you for reminding me of that today.

05-07-2007-10-12-28-171As I walk this forest path, the leaves are beautiful in their autumn colours—and you’re here with me. Quietly, yet a very sure presence. Sometimes, the path is even and smooth. Other times it goes up and own, and at times is a bit treacherous. Yet, your arm steadies me and reminds me of your presence. The light ahead is a reminder of our blessed Holy Spirit, leading the way.

From time to time, we meet others, who encourage us and even reach out with encouraging words and actions. Does our Father send angels to clear the way or minister to us through individuals along the way?

The journey of life is empty without knowing you’re there, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Forgive me for failing to share this experience of your daily presence and forgiveness; of your love, mercy, and grace which are so very DSCN1507real. I love you Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I haven’t reached the pain-free zone yet, but see the very edge of it up ahead a ways, so I carry on with a bit more strength in my step and stride. (Mary Helen Wright)

“Cast your anxiety upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). “The Lord comforts His people” (Is. 49:13).

Affirming Others

I’ve always tried to grow vegetables and plant attractive flowers wherever we have lived. I enjoyed seeing things grow, even if it meant weeding, watering and getting my fingers dirty.

But now we’re in an apartment with no balcony.
Instead of picking our own flowers, we saunter up and down the streets around Cobourg clock2where we live enjoying what the town has done to beautify its streets and parks. And we delight in the gardens of home owners.

This change in our lifestyle has reminded me that we should express appreciation for what others do. This is especially so when their efforts increase our enjoyment or show hard work or ability. When I grew prize tomatoes or planted an attractive flower garden, I took pride in it. Feeling a sense of satisfaction and joy in what one does is certainly not wrong. But when others commended my efforts, I felt affirmed and even motivated to do better.

It is easy to take others for granted; after all, don’t they get paid for what they do? A server at a restaurant. A clerk in a store or bank. A repairman fixing an oven. A doctor or nurse. A town employee weeding a garden. An artist. A pastor.

Cobourg flowersMy wife, Mary Helen, has taught me to view that approach with a jaundiced eye. She almost invariably encourages those she meets; commending them for the tasks they do. Recently I’ve heard her say to a server, “You’re good at your job. You deserve a raise.” I could give many examples.

I’m gradually learning from her! So if I see a home-owner working in her garden, I commend her about how attractive it looks. When a store clerk helps me find a product I usually express my appreciation. When a car waits while we cross the road, I wave my thanks. I often go up to a pastor after his sermon to encourage him. It’s only taken me 50 years to learn the value of words of affirmation and encouragement. And I still forget too often.

Didn’t Jesus say we could expect, “Well done, you good and faithful servant,” for Cobourg flowers (2)hard work in His service. (Matt. 25:21) The writer of Hebrews urges us; “Encourage one another daily” (Heb. 3:13). Note the daily, not rarely.

Words of encouragement and affirmation serve to lighten people’s loads and improve their performance.

(Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright )

Connected We Prosper

Maple branchesThe deciduous trees on our country property stand stark and bare at this time of year. With the lush foliage fallen, the inter-connected network of branches. From the tiniest twig, the frailest branch, to the main trunk all are exposed. The only part still hidden is the root system. Each tree is a vast inter-connected network of tiny passageways that carry life-giving sap to the farthest twig. Nutrients and water rise through the tree by capillary action. In the growth season the nutrients generated in the leaf-factories descend. The capillaries distribute what is necessary throughout each part of the tree. Cut off a twig or branch and that part of the tree dies. Like individual twigs, we humans, were not created to live isolated lives. We need connections with each other; in families, in villages, in towns, and cities. Who can live independent of farmers, pharmacists, doctors, carpenters, plumbers, snow-plow operators, school teachers, and the list goes on and on? Some have tried to live like hermits and become misanthropes, living twisted, selfish, miserable, pessimistic and cynical lives. The church, the body of Christ, by its nature is an inter-connected network of Christ-followers. “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.…If the foot shCountry Road,Frostould say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body”(1 Cor. 12:12,15). We can’t imagine a part of our body proclaiming its independence. Each part is absolutely necessary. And so it is in any community, especially in the church. We need each, very, very much. For encouragement. For ideas and inspiration. For prayer. For practical help in time of need. For skills and spiritual gifts. And we often need the challenge we give one another to participate in the extension of the kingdom. Sometimes, we just need each other for fun and fellowship. We often don’t recognize that mutual need. In the church, we may take our relationships for granted without really deepening our common connections. We may pass each other on Sundays, like ships passing in the night. We offer a nod, a hello, a how are you, without really expecting more than a socially acceptable, Good, thank you. Branches, twigsIn a recent meeting, I asked people to pair off with someone they didn’t know well and find out at least one new thing about each other. They had so much fun chatting, it proved hard to get them to stop. In order for us to bless one another, which includes praying for one another, we need to foster these connections. That requires us to be interested in one other. Are we interested, indifferent, or desirous mainly of sharing our own story? If we give people a chance, we’ll find them very interesting. Let’s be curious about one another—not morbidly so. Let’s listen to one another and encourage one another. And let’s not monopolize any conversation. I’m certainly not claiming by this blog that I’m much of an example. I can be quite happy to stay at home, curl up with a book, or work on my computer. But when I have sought to deepen my understanding of others in our church or community, I have been really surprised and blessed.

(Find out about my country books and suspense novels at http://www.countrywindow.ca)