Unshakable Hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

Archive for the tag “Prayer”

The Will To Live

I almost made it through a whole year without being hospitalized or having any additional health problems. Almost. Then, with just a few days left in 2016, I caught a cold. The “common cold” is not much more than an annoyance for otherwise healthy people, but for someone like me with weakened breathing muscles and only 30% of my lungs functioning, the common cold is much more than an annoyance.

On the morning of the last day of the year, I was having an extremely difficult time breathing even wearing my breathing mask. In addition to that, I couldn’t keep anything down. I was a mess, more than usual. Mary and I both assumed it was pneumonia again so she called 911 and within minutes we were in an ambulance en route to the hospital. ALS has brought us one adventure after another over the last 20 years.

We waited in a small emergency room for twelve hours while waiting for a room to open so I could be admitted. It was during this time that I began thinking about the will to live. I was thinking, “if I didn’t have a sense that God still had a purpose for even a broken down mess like me or if I was an atheist or adhered to some other fatalistic worldview, I would have wanted a doctor to give me a shot that would have ended this suffering. It was as if my opposition to euthanasia was being tested.

Billygraham.org
If you are convinced you’re going to heaven, where the Bible says there will be no more pain, suffering and tears…, why continue to go on fighting to live?

Apart from the fact that the Bible teaches that life, including our own life, isn’t ours to take, it’s a very logical question; a question I’ve pondered at length over the last 20 years.

It’s a question that really confuses atheists.

Years ago I was watching a Barbara Walters special on heaven. She interviewed representatives of many different faiths to get their take on the after life. For some reason her last interview was with an atheist. I remember so vividly the closing sentence of this atheist: (If we believed in a heaven) “we’d all be killing ourselves now.”

But the reverse puzzles me: if atheists believe that this short life is all that there is, why do studies on assisted suicide show that atheists are the most likely to choose that option when facing a terminal illness?

Last year, Mary and I watched a movie titled “Me Before You.” It was a fictional “love story” about a wealthy self-centered 33 year old playboy in England that becomes a quadriplegic after a tragic accident. He’s obviously depressed and becomes a recluse in his parents mansion. He begins researching assisted suicide and finds a beautiful facility in Switzerland that provides “death with dignity” for wealthy people from all over the world (unfortunately, this facility really exists).

I’m obviously not a movie reviewer so let me wrap this summary up: his pretty young caregiver convinces him to travel to many exotic locations and they fall in love, but he still goes through with his plan to end their travels at the Switzerland death clinic. Not a very happy ending.

While watching this “love story,” my mind began to wander. I began thinking about a woman I admire so much. Fifty years ago, this woman was a beautiful and carefree 17 year old swimming with friends in the Chesapeake Bay. She dove into shallow water and hit bottom. This tragic accident resulted in her becoming a quadriplegic, virtually the exact same injury as the man depicted in the movie. Like him, she became depressed, reclusive and also had suicidal thoughts, but…

Joni Eareckson Tada had made a commitment to follow Christ three years earlier while attending a Christian summer camp. It was a renewal of this commitment and the support of family and friends that gave her life new purpose. For 50 years she’s been serving others all over the world while confined to a wheelchair. She shares the Gospel on TV and radio, hosts summer camps for mentally and physically disabled youth and, a ministry that is so needed, she provides wheelchairs to the disabled in third-world countries, like the boy below in Haiti. Her ministry has given away over 150,000 wheelchairs so far.

wheelchair-haiti
It’s really amazing what God can do with broken (humbled) vessels, regardless of our physical state. This year, give God permission to use you – this is the ultimate expression of His gift of a freewill. We are Christ’s hands to help a hurting world.

And, as the Apostle Paul wrote, when we’re done fulfilling God’s purpose for us in this life, it gets so much better:

“For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

aim-at-heaven
No matter how depressed you might be over your current circumstances, please don’t give up, your story doesn’t have to have a sad ending.

“Therefore we do not lose heart (don’t give up). Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

think-of-heaven

Opportunities In Trials

In the midst of a trial, the greatest temptation we face is to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. I don’t believe this is ever God’s will.

We tend to view trials as a kind of imprisonment, thinking our life is on hold until the day we’re released from the grip of the life challenge. ALS has made me a virtual prisoner of my own body for the last 18 years. It has been a very cruel warden. But I look around me and see other people fighting illness or trying to overcome addictions, depression, abuse, debt and so many other cruel masters.

We must continue to hope and pray for freedom from whatever is trying to “hold us,” and we should do everything in our power to move toward that goal. But, in the meantime, we should look for opportunities for God to use us right where we are. This is what the Apostle Paul did, and I’m convinced it’s what God wants us to do.

It was from prison that Paul wrote the following: “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel…” (Philippians 1:12)

We don’t usually associate the word “progress” with imprisonment or any kind of trial, but I believe that we should. If we wait until we “have it all together” before we try to help and give hope to others, many will go without help and die without hope.

Would I be a hypocrite telling people that God still heals when I’ve been held in the grip of a terminal disease for 18 years?

Let me answer that with another question: Was Paul a hypocrite for writing about freedom in Christ from the depths of what was likely a rat infested dungeon?

Paul was almost stoned to death by an angry mob and severely beaten other times. He also suffered from what he called “a thorn in his flesh” (many Bible scholars say this “thorn” was poor eye sight). Regardless, it’s unlikely that Paul was the handsome and strong man depicted in the Bible movies. After spending much of his time in prison and enduring countless beatings, he was likely pale and scarred, and probably in pain 24/7. Yet, God used this suffering servant to heal and give hope to others.

The Apostles faced the same trials, temptations and human frailties that we face. Yet, in the midst of trying to overcome their own trials and temptations and battling their own demons, they were feeding the poor, healing the sick and giving hope to others by spreading the good news.

People don’t care about how much we know until they know how much we care. Maybe we wouldn’t have truly learned to care apart from our suffering.

I hope you’re successful in keeping all of your New Year’s Resolutions, and 2015 is the best year you’ve had so far. But we cannot wait for all of our hopes to be fulfilled before we offer help and hope to others.

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We overcome as we help others to overcome.

Thinking About Death

This is my first post with my new eye-tracking computer. This computer is a real blessing; it feels like I’m making a fresh start, like I’ve been given a new lease on life. How ironic it is that I felt that this post should be about death.

When I was a kid, I had a friend I’ll call “Bubba.” (There were no kids called Bubba where I grew up so I figure that’s a safe name to go with). Bubba was a high-maintenance friend that never called before coming over and always seemed to show up at my house when I was in the middle of doing something important, like watching Gilligan’s Island. He was hyper and never stopped jabbering on about stuff I wasn’t the least bit interested in. No matter how disinterested I acted, he would stay for hours and would even invite himself to dinner. To my immature and selfish mind, Bubba was annoying.

Before becoming a follower of Christ, I viewed thoughts and discussions about death much like I viewed Bubba knocking at my door – an unwelcome annoyance. After becoming a follower of Christ and coming to believe that my eternity in heaven was secured, I basically put the issue of death on a shelf thinking that one day, when I was old and gray, I would have to take it down, dust it off and deal with it. Even as a Christian, I still viewed death as “Bubba.” I never thought that welcoming death into my thoughts and prayers every day would be one of the best decisions of my life.

Old age, tragic accidents and horrible illnesses remind us that invincibility (in these bodies) is a deadline1myth; we are deceiving ourselves. ALS jolted me out of that denial comfort zone and forced me to face death head on and it’s been the most life-transforming experience. I hope to convince others that thinking about death on a daily basis is good for us emotionally and spiritually. This is the exact opposite of what I believed before ALS invaded my life.

“…we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead…” (1 Corinthians 1:9)

A few months ago I read an article that listed the top 5 regrets of the dying. They are as follows:

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

I wish I had stayed in touch with friends (Bubba, where are you?)

I wish that I had let myself be happier.

I suppose everyone’s list of deathbed regrets would vary from the above list, but in truth we’ll only have one regret on our deathbed: “I wish that I hadn’t lived in denial that this day would come.” All of our regrets grow out of denial about our death. One would think, as I once thought, that thinking about our death, putting ourselves on our deathbed, every day would be depressing, but I’ve discovered that the opposite is true.

Scrooge at His Own Grave in Like me, Ebenezer Scrooge wasn’t changed by reflecting on his past or even by discovering how others viewed him; he was only transformed when he came to terms with his own mortality. Obviously “A Christmas Carol” is not based on the Bible, but I believe Dickens got that part right.

“…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead…” (Philippians 3)

We rightly associate Easter with life, but Jesus’ whole mission was about defeating death. He had to face death before He could defeat it and so must we.

What Are You Seeking?

I follow a Bible reading plan every year, and the plan I’m following this year begins with John’s Gospel. I’ve always thought it was much more than a coincidence that the first words spoken by Jesus (in John’s Gospel) come in the form of a very profound question; it’s a question that everyone should know the answer to:

“What are you seeking? (John 1:38)

When I read that question on January 1st, I paused to think about what I should be seeking this year. I believe that our New Year’s Resolutions, or lack of, tell a lot about what we’re seeking. The following is a list of the top ten New Year’s Resolutions for 2014. Other than showing that we smoke too much, spend too much, sit too much and eat too much, what does this list tell us about the American people?

  1. Lose weight.
  2. Improve finances.
  3. Exercise more.
  4. Get a new/better job.
  5. Eat healthier.
  6. Manage stress better.
  7. Quit smoking.
  8. Improve a relationship.
  9. Quit procrastinating.
  10. Set aside time for yourself.

Besides being obsessed with our bodies and being guilt-ridden over repeatedly doing the things we don’t like, it seems to me that we’re focused on treating symptoms instead of the disease. I think all of these resolutions are good, but notice that none of the top 10 resolutions are in any way spiritual. Maybe that’s why only around ten percent of those that make resolutions succeed in keeping them. And of that ten percent that succeeds at conquering a habit or addiction, a large percentage of those will simply replace that habit or addiction with an equally destructive behavior. It seems that we’re trying, and mostly failing, to fight the flesh with the flesh.

Jesus and the Apostles tell us that we should be seeking the things whichpeace quote lead to peace. Not “world peace,” but our inner-peace. I’m not a psychiatrist or an addiction counselor, but it seems to me that a lack of inner-peace is at least partially, if not mostly, to blame for the majority of our bad habits, addictions, bad attitudes and other negative behaviors.

“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace…” “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” (Romans 8:6 & 14:19)

I haven’t yet perfected this inner-peace thing, but I’ve come a long way over the last ten or fifteen years. I’ve discovered that seeking peace through doing things like reading the Bible, prayer, listening to sermons and having like-minded friends, including blog friends, will greatly increase our sense of peace. If our primary focus is on seeking peace—the Prince of peace, we make Christ our partner in overcoming addictions and bad habits and bad attitudes.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Even if you’ve already broken your resolutions, reset your priorities and start over again. Make seeking peace your number one goal and it will increase your joy and hope and give you the strength to conquer your “demons.”

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

Pacing Your Productivity

Our 24 year old daughter, Lauren, is a blogger too; she posts with a group of women at http://sozowomen.com/. I thought I would share her latest post with you.

I have an addiction. It causes me to be on an emotional and energetic high, but when it is all said and done, at the end of the day, I am left exhausted and sitting in a big heap of unrest and heaviness.  It’s an addiction that comes in all forms, to all personalities, and all life stages.  For me, it has looked different in every season of life but somehow leaves me with the same end results.  Ok, I’ll just say it: I am addicted to productivity.  I am addicted to my to-do list, in how much and how well I can accomplish, do, create, become.

productivity pic

“That’s a great thing to be addicted to,” I hear others, “at least you get things done!” Well, no, I have realized that although productivity gives me a buzz in the moment, I can’t seek God at the same time.  This is where the challenge lies.  As I quiet my soul and take my mind off “to-doing”, I find a complete indirect correlation between my productivity addiction and those infamous words that Jesus whispers in my ear. They creep up in my heart and strike a chord—comforting, yet painful.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

-Matthew 11:28-30, ESV

Don’t get me wrong, productivity is good. God loves it (have you read Proverbs 31, yikes!), but when it pulls us away from resting in Him, stealing our peace, we labor (toil, strive) and are heavy laden (burdened, weary). As I read those few verses above, I want to scream, “That’s me! He came for me! He understands!” He came for the weak, the heavy hearted, the one who doesn’t necessarily know how to “find” Him.

We are all on a journey to learn how to constantly hold Jesus’ hand as we walk throughout each day, to find Him in the secret place, to be whole and complete in Him.  Would you join me on this journey? I am going to use these 3 practicals to help me along:

  1. Slow Down.
  2. Pray over your to-do list and what the day holds.
  3. Every time you find yourself focusing on all you need “to do” or heavy situations in life, refocus your mind on Jesus and maybe find a verse (or this one above) to hold on to.

In what ways do you find yourself losing peace? In what ways do you learn to find peace in the midst of labor and busyness?

I'm thinking Lauren will get some help overcoming productivity when the baby arrives.

I’m thinking Lauren will get some help overcoming productivity when the baby arrives.

One Day At A Time

At the beginning of this trial, so many people, mostly long-time Christians, would advise me to “Just take one day at a time.” I’m sure that every one of these wise people thought they were the first to give me this sage advice. Of course, I always acted as if they were the first to give me that advice and I politely thanked them. (If you are one of those that offered me this advice 16+ years ago, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you that a hundred people already gave me that same advice).

To be honest, even though a hundred people repeated this “Take one day at a time” cliché to me, I really didn’t understand at that time exactly what it meant. Like so many clichés, I think people throw them out to fill dead air space in awkward moments when they have nothing else to say. But, I now know this advice is much more than a wise-sounding cliché and the title of an old Southern Gospel song;  I discovered it’s also a Biblical principle.

Let me explain how I came to this conclusion.

The Christian going through a trial will quickly figure out something they wish that they’d known all along—today is all that we can properly manage or were meant to manage. Agonizing over our yesterdays and worrying about our tomorrows is just too great of a burden to carry; it will literally overwhelm us emotionally, spiritually and even physically.

today

In chapter sixteen of the book of Exodus, while in the wilderness (a Biblical metaphor of a trial), God fed the children of Israel with Manna. Jesus said that Manna was “bread that came down out of heaven.” This bread had a very short expiration date; it was only good for that day. If you attempted to put it in a Ziploc bag to save it for the following day, as some tried to do, it would spoil and you’d find maggots crawling on it. God was trying to teach them to trust Him only for today—yesterday’s “bread” is useless (unless you like maggot protein) and tomorrow’s bread hasn’t yet been delivered.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)

The Old Testament uses “types and shadows” of things to come when the Messiah arrived. As Jesus said; “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17)

Manna was a type and shadow of Jesus; He’s our daily bread—our spiritual sustenance; “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died…I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” (John 6:48-51)

In a very real sense, the life of faith in Christ is only about today; we’re told to forget about yesterday and not to worry about tomorrow:

“…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)  

[Between these two passages is a day we call “today.”]

“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)

I believe that we should do everything within our power to resolve our past (asking God and those we’ve wronged for forgiveness, paying our debts, etc.) and to plan for our future. But I don’t believe that God designed us to carry guilt from our past or to worry about our futures. Christ suffered and died to offer us forgiveness of our past and to secure our eternal futures in heaven. Knowing this puts our earthly troubles in perspective. We can live in peace, joy and hope one day at a time because: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. (Like Manna) They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21-23)

Learning To Empathize

As I begin typing this post, Ann, one of Mary’s oldest and closest friends, is having surgery to remove cancer from her body. Later she’ll have to go through radiation and chemotherapy treatments. In faith we are praying and believing that, like my friend Dabney in my last post, this friend will fully recover—she “will not die, but live, And tell of the works of the LORD.” (Psalm 118:17)

Ann is a great example of a Christian that demonstrates true empathy. She doesn’t merely feel sympathy for those going through difficult times; she walks through the difficult time with them. One of the many ways that she demonstrates empathy is by cooking and delivering meals to fellow church members, friends and family that are ill or otherwise going through difficult times.

What’s the difference between empathy and sympathy?

To feel for the person going through a trial is sympathy. To feel with a person going through a trial is empathy. Sympathy is merely a feeling that may or may not result in productive action. And, as in the case of giving money to an addict for instance, sympathy can result in actions that are counter-productive.

I think most people are born with a capacity to feel sympathy, but I believe that empathy, in the Christian sense of the word, is something we learn through the humbling effects that come through life’s many challenges and difficult trials.

“I do not ask the wounded person how he feels; I myself become the wounded person.”
Walt Whitman

Before being diagnosed with ALS almost seventeen years ago, I was one of those that thought empathy and sympathy were basically synonymous, just like the thesaurus tells us they are. But, through the humbling of this trial and through people showing us genuine Christ-like empathy, I now know the difference between sympathy and empathy. (It’s been a tough grammar lesson).

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

empathy pic

As I said, from a Christian viewpoint, I no longer believe that empathy and sympathy are synonymous. But I found another word that I believe should be a synonym for empathy—Grace. When I began thinking about writing a post on empathy, I was trying to think of Biblical examples (of empathy) that I could use. Before even opening my Bible program to start searching, example after example began flooding my mind; so many examples that I had to quickly open a Word document to type them out before I forgot.

I guess I never saw it this way before, but the New Testament is a book about empathy; Jesus came to demonstrate God’s empathy for man and to teach us how to empathize with one another. His mission of empathy can be summed-up by two of the most well-known verses; John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”), which demonstrates God’s love and empathy for man, and the so-called “Golden Rule” (“…treat people the same way you want them to treat you…” Matthew 7:12), which tells us to empathize with one another.

But Jesus knew that the best way to teach, especially to children and to a simpleton like me, is through telling stories; no story teaches empathy better than the Parable of The Good Samaritan:

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, “Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.”

Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands? And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:30-37)

Obviously we don’t know what was in the minds of the two men who saw this “half dead” man and purposely avoided him. I have to assume that even these self-righteous religious leaders felt some sympathy for the poor guy, but only the Samaritan felt and acted on empathy.

Compassion is empathy in action; sympathy is merely a feeling.

“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care”
Theodore Roosevelt

Why Me?

I’ve become convinced that for a Christian to retain hope in the midst of a trial, he or she must believe that God allowed the trial for a purpose; a purpose greater than what Christ would have been able to accomplish in and through that person apart from the trial.

“…even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 1:6-7)

They might phrase it differently, but I think every Christian that goes through a difficult trial will eventually ask “Why me?”  But I’ve learned that our motive behind asking this seemingly simple question tells a lot about how we view God and how we view ourselves.

The first man asks the question like this: “Why me; out of over 6 billion people in the world, why did I get ALS (or whatever)?” He’s really asking, “Why didn’t God put this on one of the other 6 billion + people?” This man has a warped view of God and an exalted view of himself. He views his trial as pointless and thought that he was somehow exempt from the suffering of humanity.

I know what I said about this first man sounds harsh and judgmental, but I know this man well; in a spiritual and emotional sense, I wrestled with him for several months after being diagnosed with ALS. Thankfully, with the help of God’s word, wise counsel from Christian friends and a well-timed conversation with our then non-Christian next-door neighbors, I began to see that there was a purpose behind my trial and I defeated that “woe is me” man that was trying to get into my head. (More about our next-door neighbors further down).

The second man asks the question like this: “Why me; what’s God’s purpose behind allowing this horrible trial?” This man has the correct view of God and of his place in the world. As a Christian who knows the Bible, this man knows that God wouldn’t have allowed this trial unless He had a purpose.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

That verse can only be true if we have an eternal (“Big Picture”) view of our trial. God still heals and performs miracles, and I believe that we should always pray for that result. But regardless of the outcome, God can bring about eternal good from every trial. In a hundred years, the eternal good that came from our trial will be the only thing that matters.

Trials cause the person going through the trial and those that are close to that person, to focus more on the spiritual and the eternal things because, by comparison, the temporal and the material things begin to look more and more insignificant.

god's purpose“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)

Back to our next-door neighbors: Mike and Lorraine were not followers of Christ when we met them. We did our Christian duty and invited them to church and tried to share the “Good news” with them; even our girls (then 4 and 7) invited them to church, but all to no avail. (They later told us that they mocked us in private. I could relate; I once mocked Christians too. Let’s be honest: making fun of Christians is so easy).

But after I was diagnosed, they began to reexamine the faith that was sustaining our family through this trial. Lorraine told me; “…When you were diagnosed with ALS I began to see a man who held no anger with the God that ‘allowed’ this to happen. Then you began to demonstrate trust in God’s plan, I saw your faith and I saw 2 little girls accept what God was doing in your lives and I began to wonder how such young children could love God unconditionally. I opened my heart first to the possibility that this might be good thing for me as well. Then I finally got it and allowed my brain to accept the basic truth that God is only good, loving and faithful…”

Mike and Lorraine committed to following Christ and now faithfully attend church and share their faith with others. (Now people probably make fun of them). Would they have committed to following Christ if we had not gone through this trial? Only God knows the answer to questions like that. The only thing I know for sure is that this trial has strengthened my faith and given me more confidence for sharing that faith.

But I admit that trials can sometimes feel like you’re serving a prison sentence; especially when you have ALS and you’re imprisoned in your own body. But the Apostle Paul wrote much of the New Testament while imprisoned and many of his fellow prisoners and the guards that observed Paul became followers of Christ. Only Jesus can spread a message of hope through a prisoner!

“Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14)

A Lesson about Forgiveness

The need to be forgiven by God and forgiving those who’ve hurt us is an indisputable doctrine of Christianity. Denominations might differ on many points but this isn’t one of them. But forgiving those who’ve hurt us (emotionally, physically, financially or even spiritually) can be a really difficult thing to do sometimes, especially if that hurt was inflicted upon us at a time that we were physically helpless or in other ways vulnerable.

Such was the case with Mary and me a few years after I was diagnosed with ALS. I had lost my ability to speak and was confined to a wheelchair. We were both emotionally and physically exhausted, financially broke and spiritually confused; in every sense of the word, we were vulnerable. It was in this weakened condition that someone took advantage of us financially. It was especially hurtful because this act was committed in the name of “helping us.”

This was the greatest test of forgiveness I had faced since committing my life to Christ. I had never before been hurt to the extent of not wanting to relinquish my anger. Looking back I realize that this situation was made worse because the physical weakness that resulted from the ALS had already made me feel emasculated so, in addition to the emotional, financial and marital stress this situation caused, I felt somewhat like a victim of bullying. I did NOT want to forgive this person!

After weeks of allowing my anger stealing my joy, peace and hope, I began praying for God to help me move on. It was about this time that I read or remembered the words of Jesus; “…pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:28). But the last thing I wanted to do was pray for this person. I faced a clear choice; hold on to my anger with no hope, joy and peace or step out in faith and obey Jesus’ command to start praying for this person. I chose the latter, and it was a conscious choice; it was the last thing that I “felt” like doing.

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.” (Mark 11:25-26 NASB)

Through clenched teeth I told God that I forgave this person but only because He told me to do so. Then I began praying that God would bless this person’s marriage, health, finances and every part of their life. It was really difficult the first few times I prayed for this person, but it gradually became easier. Then, after several days of praying, a strange thing began to happen; it was as if the Holy Spirit opened a window and allowed me to begin seeing the situation from this person’s point of view.

I knew this individual was also in financial trouble and had been “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” Unfortunately this person chose me to play Peter’s role. But I gradually began to see how much stress this person was under and how it affected every aspect of their life. I actually began feeling sorry for this person and began praying earnestly for God to bless them every time they came to my mind. I still do this today and I can honestly say that I sincerely hope this person’s life has been blessed since that time.

The simple fact is that hurting people, hurt people. But having insight into the troubles of those that have hurt us and our forgiving them for their wrong behavior should not be viewed as excusing or in any way justifying their wrong actions. Like everything else that Jesus commanded us to do, forgiving others is for our benefit – so that we can have joy, peace and unshakable hope.

I’m sure there are those reading this post who’ve been victims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse or other horrible things that are much more difficult to forgive than my relatively minor example. I realize that some things are harder to forgive than others, but Jesus didn’t offer exceptions to this rule; His command couldn’t be more straightforward – “…if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:14-15 NASB)

Jesus didn’t merely speak these words; He lead by example by forgiving those that mocked, tortured and nailed Him to the cross (Luke 23:34).

Why are you afraid?

“And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep. And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” (Matt 8:24-:26) 

I suppose that even the most faith-filled Christian would experience some level of fear if they found themselves in a situation like the above. But I know that a doctor delivering news of a life-threatening diagnosis, a loss of a job and insensitive debt-collectors calling day-after-day, can instill that same kind of “Save us, Lord; we are perishing” fear.

Unfortunately, we don’t really know if we have genuine faith until that faith is tested. I believe this is the reason that Jesus allowed His disciples, and us, to go through so many of these nail-biting situations. Trials force us off of the proverbial fence. Tested faith is enduring and overcoming faith; it’s faith that can empathize with and encourage others who find themselves in the midst of a raging storm – those who are feeling as if Jesus is asleep in the boat.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (James 1:2-3)

Faith (in Christ) is the opposite of and the antidote to fear. But like all antidotes it takes time to work and the quicker we start building faith, the more effective it will be. We build faith (overcome fear) by reading the Bible, through prayer and by surrounding ourselves with faith-filled people.

Faith is also preventive medicine. When faced with a life-altering situation, the person of great faith will experience little fear and the person of little faith will experience great fear. So, if you’re not going through a trial now, start building your faith because the Bible tells us we’ll all face trials.

“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NLT)

It seems that Jesus attempted to strengthen the faith of His disciples before getting in that boat. That day, the disciples saw Jesus heal a leper, a paralyzed man, Peter’s sick mother-in-law and then, for a grand finale, just before stepping in the boat and sailing into the storm, “…they brought to (Jesus) many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill.” (Matthew 8:16)

Obviously Jesus knew that His disciples would face this test of faith just as He knows when our trials are coming. It might seem like He’s asleep, but if we rely on Him to deliver us from the trial, we won’t wonder, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” like the men in that storm-tossed boat; we’ll be able to answer that question emphatically as those same men were able to do soon after this incident; “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

As I said above, everyone will eventually face something that they are powerless to handle in their own physical and/or emotional strength. This is the place where we discover how weak and fragile we are and how big and powerful God is.

 “…we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction…that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead…” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)

 

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