Tag Archives: trials

How attitudes intensify or moderate suffering

We all face difficulties of one kind or another. Job loss. Accidents. Disease. Rejection. “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward”(Job 5:7). However, the attitudes with which we face troubles will profoundly affect our ability to cope victoriously; either intensifying or moderating our anguish.

Alice and Elsie and Marci, not their real names, routinely intensify their own pain. Alice wallows in unhappiness while blaming her employer and the government for the misfortunes in her life. A cheerful greeting to Elsie triggers a recitation of grievances that reflect her bitterness and anger. Marci not only looks sad and troubled, she is.

The attitudes of these three intensify their emotional distress. Consequently, they will endure greater pain than that of others who tackle life with an uplifting outlook. Their corrosive emotions may even affect their physical health. For our own wellbeing, as well as to glorify God, we need to get rid of dark and hurtful emotions such as: sadness, worry, doubt, discouragement, fear, envy, hopelessness, bitterness, wrath, discontent, wounded pride, hatred, and the like.

The New Testament uniformly teaches that faith in Jesus Christ, and obedience to his teaching, delivers us from bondage to these emotions. (I’m not denying that in some cases there are physical causes for depression.)

This does not mean we should cover up our anguish. The Psalms of lament show us the pattern of David. “My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord…all night long I flood my bed with weeping”(Ps 6:3,6). “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?”(Ps. 13:1). But notice that David brought his pain to God and underlying that pain was faith. “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (Ps. 13:5).

A huge part of the Christian process of sanctification involves replacing dark attitudes with those that are uplifting. This process doesn’t happen overnight. But the apostle Paul explained that through the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, the transformation is certain. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control;” the very emotions that moderate suffering.

According to Jesus, happy are they who have the right attitudes. (See Matthew 5:3-12.) He taught his disciples, “Do not worry” (Matt. 6:31); “Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me”(John 14:1).

There isn’t room in this article to touch on the power of prayer, the transforming effect of thankfulness, and the uplifting outcome of worship and praise. And surely, I don’t need to mention that we engage in these activities not for therapeutic reasons, but because we have touched the hem of the Infinite. That touch makes us want to lift our hearts in praise. We have been transformed by the saving grace of Jesus Christ and that change makes us want to express thankfulness. The positive effect of praise and thankfulness—joy—is incidental to the reality of salvation, but very real.

I have no doubt whatever that the Christian faith has contributed infinitely more than we can imagine to human health, social wellbeing, and international harmony. How do I know this? I know it from the teaching of the Bible, observation of others, my own experience, and the testimony of myriad Christians, some of whom suffer indescribable persecution.

Do you have doubts that Christian attitudes moderate suffering? “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” Or as Jesus said, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17).

In a later blog, I’ll write about the role of encouragers in helping those who face trials.

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

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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?

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).

A Season for Aches and Aging?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASummer and fall is a wonderful time of harvest. Apple season came as sweet corn season wound down. Some vegetables, like beans, carrots, cucumbers, and Swiss chard seem to do well throughout the summer and into the first weeks of fall. Other crops are short-lived: strawberries, cherries, blue-berries, and our own lettuce. Every year I look forward to real field ripened tomatoes which don’t become available here until late July. But the seasons quickly pass.

The wise author of Ecclesiastes tells us that “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot…a time to weep and a time to laugh”(Eccl. 3:1,2,4).

This is certainly true of the seasons of the year. It’s also true of the seasons of life: childhood, youth, marriage, family, career, retirement. There is a time for leisure and fun. But a time for aches and pains, for wrinkles and balding, for sleepless nights? It’s called aging. No matter what creams and treatments we use, we can’t do more than disguise it. Oh, sure, the good health care we enjoy in the west and the nutritious foods we eat have contributed to putting it off a little longer. But aging is inevitable.

And yet aging is hard to accept. I look with nostalgia and a little envy at the energy of younger people; those who can play tennis with verve, hike all day, andOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA climb mountains. Right on, I say. Enjoy it as long as you can. I used to walk fast, hike through dense bush and climb steep hills without pausing for breath. Now I have a replacement knee and a miscellany of other conditions—some rather benign, some more serious.

There are always exceptional people who laugh in the face of aging. My jaw drops open when I watch some ninety-year old run a marathon. Along with everyone, I celebrate his or her achievement. But when a whole gamut of gurus imply that we could all share his health if only we subscribed to a certain regimen of supplements or exercise, I shake my head. Oh, is that so? Take this vitamin or that? Eat more kale? Can we really neutralize the effects of aging? Are we all nothing but the product of our lifestyle? Are there no differences between us? Can we really escape the inevitability of our DNA? Of course, the gurus are making lots of money pretending we can.

Sorry, I’m a skeptic. Now, I believe in eating nutritious natural foods including lots of fresh vegetables and fruit along with exercising as much as possible. I believe in postponing the inevitable as much as any. But! And this is a big but. There is also a time to accept the reality of our fragile humanity. The quicker we accept actuality, the happier we will be.

Why? Because we are fallen creatures, along with everything else in creation, creatures who have inherited decay and deterioration as a result of the space-time fall from innocence. With all creation we groan as we wait for Christ to return to remake our fallen world. “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us….the creation was subjected to frustration…in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of Colour across a hay fieldGod…we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption our bodies”(Romans 8:18, 20, 21, 23).

So, instead of grinding our teeth in the face of the inevitable, let us lift up our eyes as we look into a future that is as bright as the promises of God—a future in which our body will be transformed like Christ’s body, free from pain and aging. And until that day, let’s accept the season we’re in.

Happy Coincidence or Providential Care?

An angel came by the other day to keep us from having a dangerous highway accident. An angel you ask, well not exactly—a very observant and thoughtful person.

We were enjoying a day trip to a wonderful farmers’ market in the Amish country of Southern Ontario. As we left, I noted a factory outlet mall where we stopped to shop. Mary Helen took some of our purchases to the car and spent a few minutes relaxing. At that very moment a couple walking by our car stopped, he tapped on the window, and asked Mary Helen if she would mind them pointing out something.

The man showed her a tiny bulge on our left rear tire and warned her about the Tiredanger of a blowout while driving on the highway. Wow! She thanked them profusely and when I returned she showed me the bulge.

Among all the scuffs and marks on the wall of the tire, I would have never noticed it. We drove home very carefully avoiding the main highway by using smaller roads through wonderful farmland. The next day I took the car to a service station where the mechanic examined the tire and pronounced it unrepairable. Although he didn’t have a replacement in stock, he was providentially able to secure one quickly from the warehouse even though it was a holiday weekend.

We are so thankful for the thoughtful man who pointed out the problem. Was it just a coincidence that he and his wife were walking by our car—at that moment? Was it a coincidence that we parked where we did? Was it a coincidence that Mary Helen took purchase back to the car at that specific time? Was it a coincidence that a man who could recognize a dangerous tire condition would see what to me looked like an insignificant mark on the tire? Was it a coincidence that the special tire needed was found on a holiday weekend?

RainbowNo, this whole episode is one more example of God’s providential care. “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.…He who watches over you will not slumber;…The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore”(Psalm 121:2,3,7,8).

Throughout our lives there have been hundreds, even thousands upon thousands of so-called coincidences that were really evidences of God’s providential care. Many of them we have not recognized.

Of course, events don’t always turn out in ways that seem good to us. Bad things happen too. And recently we have been somewhat overwhelmed by health challenges. This incident reminds us that God cares for us and watches over us and will overrule all apparently difficult things for our good and His glory. He does this to all who become his children through putting their faith in Jesus, his son.

Romans 8:28, as we were reminded recently by a wonderful sermon, doesn’t mean that nothing difficult or bad will ever happen to us. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him who have been called according to his purpose”(Rom. 8:28). In some inscrutable way all the things that happen to us, good or bad, God will work into his plan for us so we become conformed into the likeness of his son [vs 29]. That process will ultimately both glorify God and bless us.

We’ve got a long way to go to become like Christ. How God overrules everythingOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA for our good and his glory is beyond our understanding and responsibility. But as he reminded us in this incident, he loves us and he will take care of us.

What should we do then? “Cast all your anxiety [cares] on him because he cares for you”(1 Peter5:7).

[For descriptions of books by Eric E Wright, including Down a Country Road, a book of inspirational readings through the year, visit: http://www.countrywindow.ca )

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.

Can We Only Learn Grace Through Suffering?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWHY SUFFERING #8
On the surface, suffering seems meaningless—wasting precious human vitality, creativity, and energy. But are there things we can only learn through suffering?

Anguish and puzzlement about the purpose of suffering reverberates down through the centuries. Perhaps we can understand why some Christians who manifest immaturity, selfishness, or pride need the stern rod of suffering. But surely mature Christians such as the apostle Paul didn’t need to be subjected to this painful tutor? Well yes, he did, as he himself explains in Second Corinthians.

“Lest I be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:7-10).

Evidently, even the fearless apostle of grace could only learn about the sufficiency of God’s grace through enduring some chronic Our house, last year...we still hope for snow this year.infirmity. Why? Paul was highly educated, a Pharisee of the Pharisees. He had a dramatic conversion and learned the gospel through direct revelation from the resurrected Christ. Grounds for pride. He could have easily trusted in himself instead of praying constantly for the help of the Holy Spirit. But his infirmity kept him dependent on God’s grace.

If Paul needed something to remind him to keep humble; so do we. God has to often use adversity to remind to bend the knee in humble dependence. Mary Helen and I had to learn it often in Pakistan. And, slow learners that we are, we keep relearning that, “He is able to make all grace abound to [us]” (2 Cor.9:8).

Do we doubt this necessity? Then consider the fact that even Jesus, though the Son of God, in his human nature suffered that he might realize how challenging it is for sons and daughters of Adam to learn obedience in a fallen world. “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering” (Heb. 2:10).

Think of it. The Son of God laid aside the robes of His deity to come at Christmas as a helpless baby. Ponder how he grew in grace and in favour with God and man. His human development e demonstrated his identification with us! Human perfection through suffering!

And since Jesus “shared in [our] humanity…[and] because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted”(Heb. 2:14,18). Do we despair in the midst of pain? Are we fainting with weariness because of some suffering? We need to cry out to Jesus who understands and can moderate our suffering or give us the strength to endure it. He alone, who bore our humanity, knows how much we can bear. He alone understands that our emotions ebb and flo as we grapple with troubles.

What about the role of Satan in suffering? See #1 in this series on suffering for a description of the cosmic dimensions of suffering. See : http://www.ericewright.com/why-suffering

In this fallen world, we need to ask God to help us develop an ironclad Sunsetdependence on the sufficiency of His grace and the reality of His presence. From beginning to end, salvation is by the undeserved grace of God. We are saved by grace. We are kept by grace. We grow in grace, not by our education or skills or discipline or effort. Lord, help us to never forget this reality.