Tag Archives: suffering

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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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 )

Gone Home

See www.countrywindow.caOh, to be home! Although trite, the saying is true, there’s no place like home. Long trips or vacations away from home eventually create in most of us an overpowering longing to get home. Back where we can sit in our favourite chair, sleep in our own bed, make our own coffee.

I can’t imagine the trauma suffered by today’s refugees. Their homes destroyed. Their towns in ruins. Loved ones scattered or dead. They need to establish a new home. Fortunately, Canada and other countries offer some refuge…but to a limited number. Millions more scatter throughout Europe. Millions moulder in crowded camps in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Homeless.

We are extremely fortunate in the North America to have escaped the devastation of war. We take having a home for granted—for 20, for 60, for 90 years. But what about having a home forever?

A childhood friend died last week. Fortunately, his family and friends do not grieve as many do who believe that death is extinction—a dead-end. While this friend was alive he read and believed reports from beyond the grave.

He read Jesus words; “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25,26). He read Jesus promise, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a pace for you…that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3). He believed.

He read Paul’s testimony; “What I received I passed on to you as of first importance; that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve, after that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living” (1 Cor. 15:3-6). And this friend believed.

Though he suffered terribly through cancer, he trusted in Jesus Christ alone for his salvation, found peace…and now he has gone home. Really gone home. There is no home like heaven!

He has joined the throng around the throne who sing; “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns” (Rev. 19:6). He has joined uncounted multitudes who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb. (Rev. 19:9). He has gone to that astonishing place where “the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with DSCN1448them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.…No longer will there be any curse…there will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light” (Rev 21:3,4; 22:3-5).

No wonder Paul cried out in jubilation; “O death where is thy sting” (1 Cor. 15:55)! Are we among those who have a heavenly home or will hell be our eternal dwelling place? And this not because we were more righteous or religious than others, but because we are forgiven for Jesus’ sake. We can look forward to a heavenly home, like my friend, because of Good Friday and Easter.

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).

Prospering in Stoney Ground

One day we took a walk through a park along the shores of Lake Ontario. I wandered down to the pebbly beach. Wave action has broken off zillions of smooth pebbles from the exposed layers of shale—ideal skipping stones of boys like me.

Although the beach seemed sterile and inhospitable, I was amazed to find a flowering plant rooted in the pebbles along the shore. How, I wondered, could it survive in such a barren location? On the way home we saw another remarkable sight, a mossy stonecrop plant growing out of the top of an old highway post.

Windy day at Presqui'le ParkTenacious plants remind me of Christians like Grace Anderson, the 99 year old woman whose memorial I conducted several years ago. Grace radiated a youthful, exuberant spirit until the day she went to heaven. Her hopeful attitude toward life blossomed in spite of trials that would leave many reeling. She went as a single missionary to India as the flames of war engulfed Europe. She ministered during the Indian independence movement in an apparently barren town in the north. Her first term was nine years, in order to wait for her betrothed. Back in North America, she and her family struggled to find housing and jobs when their 23 year career as missionaries ended. Her secret? A desire to please God and do His will and a persevering faith in her Lord.

Flowering plants growing from stony soil also remind me of stories from around the world. People rising from the ashes of poverty and sickness in Mozambique to flourish for God. A Christian released from prison, choosing to return there to minister to other prisoners. The joy of a converted biker and drug dealer—transformation changing a ruined life. A Christian woman in Pakistan refusing to deny her faith in Christ in order to escape possible execution. The church multiplying in Iran in spite of virulent opposition. Children refusing to convert to Islam when threatened with death.

We don’t have to look far for examples of people flourishing in spite of grievous trials. I’m sure you’ve met many. The flowers of faith, hope, and love seem to blossom most prolifically in the lives of some of those suffering the most from job loss, ill health, disappointment, persecution or tragedy.

In yielded souls, nothing can keep God from bringing blessing out of barrenness,

beauty out of ugliness, godliness out of wickedness. “I will restore the years the locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25). “Is anything too hard for the Lord” (Gen. 18:14)? Whatever is going on in your life right now, He can fix it. He is not only the Creator, He is also the Re-creator!

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

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.