Tag Archives: pain

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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Gilded morning

 

“When morning gilds the skies, my heart awaking cries;”
Beauty still prevails
Shining above the ugly and the evil
Above a world darkened by hatred and greed
“Yes, wrong will fail, the right prevail with peace on earth good will toward men.”
For around this spinning globe millions of little suns reflect the light of the Son upon the blighted lives of the persecuted, the hurting, the despondent, the careless, and the cruel.

DSCN2176 - CopyThese thoughts came to me one morning when I couldn’t sleep beyond 5:30. Instead of tossing and turning, I ventured down to the waterfront to watch the sun rise. I found the ducks and geese already up. As very gently, very slowly rainbow a kaleidoscope of light spread around, my mouth fell open in wonder. Such splendour. Such magnificence. Such pervasive loveliness.

The first words of a hymn came to mind, “When morning gilds the skies, my heart awakening cries, may Jesus Christ be praised.” But as the Christmas carol says, wrong seems to prevail.

The night before, as was my wont, I had watched the TV news.DSCN2184 (2) - Copy Such a depressing litany of human depravity and natural catastrophe. Theft. Murder. Road rage. Flooding Internet hacking. Exploitation. Earthquakes. More and more terrorist bombings and threats. Streams of refugees fleeing destruction and death. And through it all an election campaign
that makes one wonder whether sanity has abandoned our friends to the south—not that we in Canada would be much different if subjected to such a system.

BUT! The sunrise reminds us that beauty and goodness and purity still live on our darkened planet.

With the sunrise, I remember that Jesus Christ, the Lord is at work around the world. This sun of righteousness iDSCN2178 - Copys continuing to shed his light through his redeemed children. Little points of reflected light are comforting the bereaved, healing the sick, encouraging the discouraged, sharing good news with the despairing. Establishing schools. Manning
hospitals. Running orphanages. Teaching literacy. Translating the Word of life. Gathering God’s new covenant children. Distributing relief. Sowing seeds of kindness and gentleness and godly purpose. Challenging cruelty.

The sunrise brings a new day. Those who stumbled yesterday, can rise today with hope. DSCN2203 - CopyThose who sinned yesterday may find forgiveness today. There is wisdom for new challenges. There is strength for ongoing trials. There is love for the unlovely. There is a new batch of patience for those who blew it yesterday. There is release for the captives. There is deliverance for the addicted. Anything is possible!

God is the God of new days, of second chances, of grace and mercy and love. Believe it doubting soul!

 

 

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 )

Smiling In Adversity

Winter arrived late this year. But inevitably, the temperature plunged and light snow began to fall. After the weather cleared, knowing it might be the last for some time, we headed out for a walk through our park. I was struck by the hardiness of the ornamental cabbage that had been carefully planted by town gardeners. The ornamentals seemed to smile up at me in spite of the nippy temperature.

They reminded me of the cheerful countenance of those who endure severe Ornamental cabbagetrials. Scripture exhorts us to face difficulties with patience and good cheer. However, I’ve often had to rebuke myself for complaining about some difficulty or trial. A sleepless night throws me into a bad mood. Creaky joints make me grumpy. And yet I see so many saints who endure cancer or some debilitating illness or loss with confidence and faith. Currently, our church lists nine people dealing with sickness or surgery plus another five dealing with cancer.

How could James urge us to “consider it pure joy, my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). That seems so unnatural, so impossible. How can we wring joy out of pain, loss, or persecution? This kind of joy is not happiness which depends on circumstances or some kind of masochistic delight in pain.

James explains how this impossible attitude is possible in the following verses. “Consider it joy…BECAUSE you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). The joy comes from knowing that the trial is not wasted but contributes to character development. We are urged to embrace a settled assurance that “all things work together for good”.

Becoming a cheerful person in the face of tribulation takes time and grace. I doubt if Paul enjoyed his thorn in the flesh any more than he did being shipwrecked or beaten. He pleaded with the Lord three times to take away his thorn. God responded, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Learning about the sufficiency of grace enabled Paul to gladly accept his weaknesses so that Christ might be glorified in his character development.

Finding joy in adversity require a revolutionary change in what we value in life. As Paul teaches in Romans five, “We rejoice in our sufferings BECAUSE we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Rom. 5:3-5). Joy in suffering must bubble up from a hopeful, love-filled heart.

Cobourg SunsetWhen we value these qualities that are elsewhere called, the fruit of the Spirit, more than we value pleasant circumstances, good health, and freedom from trouble, then we have a head start on becoming cheerful in trials. This revolution in thinking and values takes place in the heart. Hopeful, patient people are usually joyful people.

Sadly, too often I allow my feelings and circumstances to dictate my attitude. Not good. It shows I have a long way to go on this journey to heaven.

On the other hand, I can’t imagine Job smiling during his excruciating trial. God doesn’t expect us to be hypocritically cheerful. Since Jesus knew pain, He understands if sometimes all we can do is grimace and weep. But, praise God, He helps us to become more joyful and less grumpy and complaining.

(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).

Sometimes Life Is Like A Swamp

Sometimes life is like a swamp: boggy, muddy, wet, full of biting insects. Can any good come out of these times of distress?

??????????????????????Swamps may appear pretty in the spring when clothed in marsh marigolds. But many consider swamps as useless land, good for nothing. And so, for centuries we have been draining swamps and bogs to create more tillable land or to enable buildings to be erected. Millions and millions of acres have been reclaimed to gratify our human view of progress. For example, the Florida Everglades have been reduced from eight million acres to just two million.

Like much else in our created world we have failed to understand the importance of conservation. In this case, in losing wetlands, we lose their incredible capacity to act as sponges filtering out harmful pollutants. We also lose their effect in absorbing flood waters. And so we harm ourselves.

We also disrupt the balance of creation by destroying the habitat for algae, zooplankton and all the higher creatures that feed on them. Wetlands create OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAan ideal environment for a host of creatures from snails to salamanders, frogs and lizards. Swamps create an ideal home for many birds and mammals: herons, ospreys, rabbits, otters, bobcats, deer, beavers, raccoons, and black bears.

Admittedly, swamps also harbor insects such as mosquitoes…but these feed a wealth of birds as well as annoy us.

Swamps can be viewed as a metaphor for difficult times in our lives. We’re journeying through sunlit fields of ripening grain, singing as we hike along shady forest paths and then suddenly we plunge ??????????????????????into a swamp. The ooze sucks at our shoes. Mosquitoes feast on our face and necks. A snake slithers across our boggy path.

Life has been good. We’re healthy and strong. Our children act like cherubs. Our pay cheque swells. We holiday in Rome and Venice. Friends multiply. Then suddenly the climate changes.

A child falls sick with a life-threatening illness. We are demoted at work. The catalytic converter on our car needs to be replaced. The washing machine packs it in. We develop headaches. Sleep eludes us at night. The doctor is mystified. The chiropractor can’t help.

Why Lord? Why so much all at once? What have we done to merit a swampy experience? The whys reverberate in our minds. The heavens are as brass. Silence from above. We suffer anguish without understanding purpose or cause.
We may need to remind ourselves that, like swamps, there may be a myriad of good effects hidden from our superficial sight.???????????????????????????????

Painful swamp experiences bring to the surface the pollutants that lurk unacknowledged in our characters: impatience, arrogance, doubt, laziness, aimlessness, tenuous grasp of God’s purposes, and self-confidence in place of trust in the Master. Trials and suffering give us a chance to acknowledge our terrible flaws and sins and bring them to the only one who can forgive and heal us.

Swamp experiences teach us to empathize with others in similar circumstances. God is the one “who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God”(2 Cor. 1:4).

???????????????????????????????Swamp experiences, if we bow to Christ in submission, give the Holy Spirit opportunity to reform our character into the image of Christ. Out of bad, even evil, He makes a host of good to arise. “We rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us”(Romans 5:3-5).

But Lord, we are frail. Help us to remember you are always with us and help us to be a blessing to others for your glory.

One’s Personal Fog Index

When we plunge into a dense fog, only what is immediately around us remains visible. Objects at some distance, depending on the density of the fog, disappear. In the same way, personal events tend to distract us from noticing what is going on beyond our own person or family. It is a very unusual person who remains concerned about refugees in Lebanon when they’ve just lost their job or received a diagnosis of cancer.

Since my knee surgery a month ago, I’ve been dealing with discomfort, sleepless Sunrisenights and exercise that leaves me sore. This experience almost completely obscured my perspective on world events and the needs of others. The disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines plane hardly left a blip on my consciousness. The greater the intensity of one’s own immediate experience, the less aware we become of events in the world at large—even the concerns of friends.

My surgery is classed as routine. It is not to be compared with other, more serious procedures. Nor would I in any way compare my discomfort with those who suffer unremitting pain or the long-term and terrible effects of cancer. In no way can my experience be compared with those recovering from any natural disaster. Many, many people are worse off than me. But that is hard to remember when I’m trying to make my knee bend or sleep through the night. One’s own experience tends to throw a dense fog over what is external to one’s life, blotting out perspectives on others and their suffering.

This all sounds selfish and callous and yet it is natural to be fogged in when personal stress is highest. Our awareness and concern for others tends to shrink as we become absorbed in our own pain regimen.

What is true of the effect of pain and suffering is especially true of selfishness. We are all concerned about our own welfare, our needs, our goals, our hopes. And the more self-absorbed we are the less we perceive the concerns of other. Selfishness envelops us in a fog of our own making. Selfishness is terribly blinding and short-sighted.

Cormorants in flightSomehow we need to find a way to dissipate the fog that hides from our eyes the needs of others. We need to develop some way of maintaining an unselfish perspective that helps us rise above our immediate circumstances.

As Christians, we realize that only Christ, through the indwelling Holy Spirit, can overcome our natural self-absorption. “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others”(Phil 2:4). We need to ask God to help us lift up eyes of compassion to see those who suffer beyond us, even in Syria, in Iran, or in North Korea. Empathy does not come naturally. We must learn it. Our default position should be concern for others driven by empathy and compassion.

While being fogged in by our own concerns or trials may be natural, it should not be the reaction of a follower of Christ. What is your fog index? What is mine?