Do We Really Want To Be Better Comforters?

Sharing today from Penetrating the Darkness.

Do We Really Want To Be Better Comforters?

What factors deepen and expand our ministry to hurting people?

Valid answers include a sound grasp of Bible knowledge, identification and exercise of our spiritual gift(s), and a willingness to sacrifice our convenience and time precisely when others most need help. But there’s one answer I’d put first: our own suffering.

Whether our affliction comes in the form of physical maladies, adverse circumstances outside of our control, or emotional anguish (such as major depression), our pain brims with the potential to serve others more effectively. The late pastor and author Ron Dunn went so far as to say, “Your greatest area of usefulness may stem from your greatest area of pain.”

Why is that the case?  Suffering that does not make us bitter makes us better. It breaks our hearts, increasing our empathy with others who hurt. We’re more likely to show compassion when we’ve “been there, done that.”

Allow me to illustrate.

Examples of Pain’s Potential to Expand Our Ministry

While strolling alone on a beach near his home, the forlorn pastor considered suicide. He thought to himself, “I can’t take any more hard knocks. I can’t imagine how things will get any better.”

A worried friend of the pastor showed up at the beach, knowing that’s where the pastor went when he needed to sort things out. The friend didn’t condemn his depressed companion for lack of faith, or dish out superficial solutions. Instead, he walked alongside him for a long time, listened as the pastor vented, told him he loved him and prayed for him.

The friend’s presence incarnated God’s love and instilled hope within the distraught pastor. Here’s how the pastor described the effect: “Within minutes, my life started coming together again. I started thinking clearly for a change. A ray of hope burst through the dark clouds that had been hovering over me. I began seeing solutions to some of the things harassing me, and believed again that God would help me.”

What prompted the compassionate response of the pastor’s friend?

His own past experience with pain.

The comforter had gone through a rough patch in his life a couple of years before. He knew firsthand how downcast a person of faith could feel, and had experienced the sustaining power of God’s Spirit. He remembered how God had mobilized people in the body of Christ to reach out to him when his own future seemed hopeless. The comforter’s own brokenness had kept him from a self-righteous, judgmental attitude toward his hurting friend. Instead of offering glib, snap-out-of-it advice, his listening posture and heartfelt prayer lifted the rocks off his friend’s chest.

*******

Joni Eareckson Tada has been a quadriplegic since a diving accident in her teens. God chose not to heal her body. Yet over the decades, she has written best selling books offering a sound theology of suffering, interspersed with stories from her life of God’s sustenance. She has shared the gospel of Christ in speaking engagements all over the globe. She founded Joni and Friends, an organization that provides support and resources for disabled persons and their caregivers. Her organization also trains local church leaders on ways to care for the disabled within their own community. Her ministry to needy people isn’t huge in spite of her disability, but because of it. In her case, God has received more glory by redeeming her pain, rather than by eradicating it.

Read the rest here.

When God Calls You to Stay

Today I’m sharing from Set Apart.

When God Calls You to Stay

By Linda Green [Guest Contributor]

God’s Word is full of commands for His people to go. These divine calls, while varied in nature, require both trust and obedience that are not only costly, but utterly impossible apart from God.

God called Abraham to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you; and I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” Genesis 12:1-3.

Going for Abraham meant leaving his very comfortable life to go to an unknown place and face countless trials and tests. “So Abram went, as the LORD had told him…”

God called Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand he let His people go.

Moses had settled into a comfortable and secure life in the wilderness where he had fled for his life 40 years earlier, but that is not what caused him to push back at God’s call to return to Egypt. Moses simply felt unqualified and unable to do the seemingly impossible job God was asking of him. Yet Scripture records: “Moses took his wife and his sons…and wentback to the land of Egypt,” Exodus 3-4.

God called Jonah to “go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before Me.”

The Ninevites were Israel’s fierce and cruel enemies and Jonah had zero interest in sacrificing his own life for the sake of utterly undeserving people! And so he ran away from God, (or at least tried to). But God caused Jonah, along with all of his fears and rebellion, to be swallowed by a giant fish before being spit out on the ground.  Three long days later, this God ordained trial resulted in a significantly humbled man who was ready to obey Almighty God. “So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD” Jonah 3:1-2.

Jesus called his disciples (and us) to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-20). There are countless examples of those who have obeyed this call to make disciples of all nations. Though it cost many their lives or the lives of those they loved, they went out of love and obedience to Christ.

  • Abraham walked by faith and came to know God Almighty who keeps His promises.  God made him the father of many nations, teaching him (and us) that we can take God at His Word. 
  • Moses returned to Pharaoh in Egypt by faith and came to know God as LORD, being witness to His powerful display of authority, power, provision, and deliveranceGod taught his servant Moses (and us) to trust that nothing is impossible with God, even when everything looks completely hopeless.
  • Jonah went in obedience and faith and witnessed a revival in Ninevah! God’s lessons to Jonah (and us) reveal a God who is patient, merciful, and slow to anger, but also disciplines those He loves.
  • Throughout the centuries, God’s people have gone to dark places to proclaim the gospel; from cities to jungles, from college campuses to dark countries oppressed by communism. As grateful recipients of redemption, they have gone out in obedience and faith to proclaim God’s saving power through the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. God taught them (and us) that apart from Him we can do nothing.

Like those who have gone before us, God’s call to go is costly, requiring utter dependence on Christ’s power, presence, and provision. Going always requires laying down selfish ambitions, plans, and worldly expectations in order to receive the higher call of Christ. But they also go expectantly, as participants in God’s story for their eternal joy and His glory.

But sometimes God calls us to stay.

As a women’s ministry director in a large church, I have met more than a few women who, in their darkest moments, dream of a call to go, because the call to stay feels impossibly hard and costly. Consider these women who have obeyed the call to stay in the midst of painful and often, unfathomable, circumstances. For example;

I think of a wife, married to an unloving, self-absorbed man who spends his time and money in grievous ungodly pursuits. She imagines her life would be happier if she left him, but knows God has called her to stay that she might display the power of the gospel through the persevering love of Christ. 

I think of a woman in the workplace who is a victim of hurtful and damaging gossip, unjustly treated because of her faith. She yearns to tell her boss she quits, but for now she believes God has called her to stay so that she might display the gospel’s power through grace-filled humility. 

I think of a woman who lives next door to an angry and revengeful neighbor. She and her husband have considered moving, but remember how God led them to this neighborhood. For now, they know they are to stay, that they might display the gospel’s power through forgiveness.

I know a single woman who feels isolated and lonely in her seemingly family-oriented church, but believes God has called her to stay and reach out to others, that she might display the unity of Christ.

Finally, I think of my own daughter who battles chronic Lyme’s disease along with her four young children who suffer with it as well. This insidious disease has wreaked havoc in their family through chronic pain, explosive behaviors, excessive crying and whining, night terrors, and skewed emotions. Her husband’s job loss has only exacerbated financial pressures, delayed medical treatment, and the normal stresses of marriage and parenting young children. This young mom, who never feels well herself, imagines a quieter less stressful life. Yet, God has called her to stay to display the power of God through the sufficiency of Christ.

Read the rest here.

Waiting in Faith, Trust and Hope

Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength;
they will mount up with wings like eagles,
they will run and not get tired,
they will walk and not become weary.

─Isaiah 40:31

Waiting in Faith,
Trust and Hope

You may have noticed that I did not publish any blog posts last week. That’s because of some wonderful news I get to share with you today. Rick and I were in Phoenix because our family has officially increased by two precious babies.

Our journey with twins Austin and Alex began in June 2016 when they were just four months old. They were brought to Alan and Denise (my son and daughter-in-love) through the foster care system. Unsurprisingly we all immediately fell in love with them and have spent the last 33 months hoping, praying and waiting for everything to work out so that Alan and Denise could adopt these sweet little ones. Last week that long-awaited event happened and Rick and I were there at the adoption hearing, along with many family and friends.

I often write about faith, trust and hope. Over the past three years, all of us have been praying and praising God with faith, trust and hope during the waiting. Admittedly there were times when we all wondered if the adoption would ever happen. We repeatedly found ourselves high on the mountains of good news, only to be thrust down into valleys when those hopes were dashed. Still, we continued to rely on God for his comfort and peace while we waited.

Years ago, a fellow writer shared this gem with me about waiting. I have shared his wise words before and they never get old. It definitely applies to our situation:

Even though it was very hard at times to keep on trusting and believing that God was working out the details for the good of all of us, including the babies, we never gave up hope that adoption day would finally happen. The most important thing we learned from everything we went through is that God already had a plan in place, and last week we witnessed the fruition of that plan.

So here we are, almost three years later. Because of the anonymity and protection required for children in the foster care system, we haven’t been able to speak publicly about this … until now.

Oh, dear Lord, this Meemaw is utterly thankful to be able to finally tell how You walked with us through all that waiting. To You—our awesome and everlasting God—be the glory for allowing us to be part of such an amazing journey with these two precious children.

To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, 
the only God,
be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
─1 Timothy 1:17

As I was writing this post, the song To God Be the Glory kept running through my head, so here is a video of Nicole C. Mullen singing My Tribute (To God be the Glory)/My Redeemer Lives:

What God’s Hope Is, What It Isn’t, and Why It Matters

What God’s Hope Is, What It Isn’t,
and Why It Matters

By Lee Strobel

God’s hope is different from what you might expect. We use the word hope all the time to mean different things. In fact, much of what we call hope could fall into three categories: wishful thinking, blind optimism, and personal dreams.

Wishful thinking is when we try to hope things in or out of existence. It’s when we blow out the candles on our birthday cake and say to ourselves, “I hope I stay healthy for another year.” It’s when we pick up the Wall Street Journal and say, “I hope the prime rate drops again.” It’s when spring training begins and we say, “I hope the Cubs don’t disappoint me again this year.” (Hey, hope springs eternal!)

Wishful thinking is a kind of hopeful feeling that maybe, somehow, some way, things will go the way we want them to, even though we really don’t have any power whatsoever to make it happen.

Another kind of hopeful attitude is blind optimism, like the guy who fell off a thirty-story building and yelled out as he passed the fifteenth floor, “Well, so far, so good!”

While it’s good to have a generally optimistic outlook, some optimists see everything through rose-colored glasses. They paper over their problems as if they didn’t exist. They avert their eyes from the ugly aspects of the world. To them, everything’s just fine all the time-never mind the facts.

It’s like the joke about the parents of two young twins. One of the boys was a depressed pessimist; the other was an incessant optimist. The parents were getting worried because each child’s personality was becoming increasingly extreme. So just before Christmas, the father said, “We need to do something to break them out of their molds.”

The parents decided to put dozens and dozens of shiny new toys in the pessimist’s room, and to fill the optimist’s room with piles of horse manure, hoping this would change their attitudes.

The children went to their rooms for a couple of hours, and then the pessimist came out. “Did you play with your new toys?” the father asked eagerly.

“Nah,” moaned the pessimist. “I never even opened the packages. I was afraid that if I touched them, they’d just break, and then I’d be disappointed.”

That’s when the optimist came bounding out of his room that had been filled with horse manure. He was all smiles. “How come you’re so happy?” asked the dad.

The little boy beamed and said, “I just know that if I keep digging long enough, I’m going to find the pony!”

Do you know people like that—optimists who pretend everything’s always great and who gloss over problems in their lives?

And then there’s hope that takes the form of personal dreams. These are the lofty goals we set for our lives and which we work so hard to achieve. In other words we don’t just hope for a new car, but we begin saving for one. We don’t just hope we’ll become a better golfer, but we take lessons and spend time on the practice tee. We don’t just wish for good health, but we begin to watch our diet and participate in an exercise program.

Generally, there’s nothing wrong with that. But problems arise when our personal dreams are restricted by our own limitations or when they fall victim to factors beyond our control.

For instance, I suppose a lot of General Motors workers had personal dreams of job security and retirement, but that didn’t stop GM from announcing one day that they were going to eliminate thousands of employees. Unfortunately our dreams are often at the mercy of others.

Biblical hope is different. For most people, hoping is something that they do, but the Bible talks about hope as something they can possess. We can actually grab hold of it. For someone who follows Jesus, hope is the secure expectation that He is both willing and able to make good on the promises He has made to us.

The Bible refers to this as “living hope,” because it’s linked directly to the resurrection of Christ. The apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:3-4: “In [God’s] great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you.”

You see, through His decisive conquest of death, Jesus demonstrated that He really is God and that He really does have the power to fulfill His promises in the pages of Scripture. Promises to change our lives. Promises to guide us. Promises that He’ll cause good to emerge from our personal difficulties. Promises that His followers will spend eternity with Him.

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure,” says Hebrews 6:19. Usually I hate to use sailing analogies because I can get seasick drinking a glass of water, but an anchor is a great metaphor. Our hope is only as good as what we anchor it to.

Let’s face it: In and of itself, hope doesn’t have any power to change reality. We hope for this, we hope for that, and we might feel better for a while. We may even fool ourselves into thinking everything’s okay. But the only way hope has any real power is when we anchor it to the God who has real power. And not only real power, but a heartfelt desire to help.

And I think Jesus would say to you, “Whatever you’re facing, I can infuse hope into your life—a hope that’s firm and secure. In fact, let Me describe for you two specific ways I can introduce hope to you—by absolving you of your past, and by assuring you of your future.”


From Investigating Faith by Lee Strobel