Why We Write

Pen 100A friend of mine ministers to college students at a state university. Much of his work is meeting with people one-on-one, leading small group discussions, teaching bible studies, and preaching in local churches. But, a couple of years ago, he believed the Lord was leading him to start writing.

So, he did. Soon, he had written a short book about what it means to encounter God and live life on a higher level.

No agent or publisher wanted the book, but that was OK, because he didn’t write with the hope of “being published.” He wrote out of obedience to the Lord, and that was enough. He self-published the little book and made it available via Print-on-Demand and as an ebook.

About four months later, he got a call from a missionary/evangelist overseas. The guy on the phone had met several men who converted to Christ because of an ebook they found on the internet, and he wanted to let the writer know of the impact he was making on behalf of the Kingdom of God.

scroll-1410168_1920There may be any number of reasons why people write. Some do it as a form of personal therapy; it’s one way they work through their own issues. Some people write to entertain their audience; they have a gift for storytelling, and people respond to them. Still others write because it’s their job, and they have to make a living. This man writes simply because God told him to.

In Colossians 3:17 the apostle says, “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (HCSB).

Whatever your reason for writing, do it faithfully and joyfully as unto the Lord. The issue isn’t whether you get a big contract from a major publisher, or post your work on a blog, or make it available as an ebook. If the Lord called you to write, then write, and trust Him for the outcomes.

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Watering the Pinapple

pineapple-627290_1920Three or four years ago, a friend gave me the top of a pineapple his family had eaten. He told me, “Plant this in dirt and it’ll grow. It sometimes takes a few years, and doesn’t even need a whole lot of water.”

So I put the thing in a plastic grocery bag, put it in the garage, and forgot about it. A year-and-a-half later while cleaning the garage, I found the parched pineapple top and assumed it was dead. But then I thought, “Why not put it in a pot with some soil and see what happens?” I started watering my experiment once in a while, and after a few months, new life sprouted. When it got to about 20 inches tall, I transplanted it in the back yard. Within another few months there was a pineapple growing in the center of the plant.

There are times when it seems like your marriage is dried up or dead. It might have been months or even years since you’ve paid attention or invested in the relationship with the one you used to love and care about the most.

But it’s not necessarily over. It’s not too late to plant new seeds of love and kindness, to offer a timely word of encouragement, or to start “watering the pineapple.”

If you decide to start fresh, you’ll need to be patient. My pineapple had been dried up and discarded for over a year, and when finally planted, it took months to begin to sprout, and then another year or more before the fruit appeared. It just takes time. Sometimes a lot of time.

It is just as likely that when you begin to express loving, healing thoughts and words, it might take a while before you start to see new life in your marriage. So be patient. Keep on investing in your marriage. Continue loving. Be genuinely interested in your mate’s well-being. It’s going to be hard at first, but if you are willing to hang in there and continue treating each other right, your marriage can be restored.

Couple 3Several years ago, we went through a pretty rough time in our marriage. We didn’t like each other. We were pretty unhappy. Things weren’t going well. I came home from work one day and my wife asked me out of the blue, “Are we ever going to be happy again.”

“I don’t know, Sweet-heart,” I answered. And I really didn’t. “How ’bout if we just try to be nice to each other, don’t do anything that we’d come to regret, and see what happens.”

Six or seven months later, we could tell that the joy had returned to our lives. We could smile at each other. We could laugh together. We enjoyed being in the same room. But it didn’t happen automatically, and it didn’t happen fast. We had to invest in each other, and we had to be patient.

Perhaps you’ve discarded the idea that you can be happy, or that you can have a good marriage. That pineapple in my back yard is a good reminder that even when things look lifeless, there’s still hope. You can reignite the love and the joy in your marriage too.

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Let Go of the Past

suitcase 1When we say a person is carrying a lot of baggage, what we mean is there has been some pain, abuse, or failure in the past, and the person hasn’t finished dealing with it. We often have trouble letting go of it, healing from it, or forgiving the people involved. Whatever is in “the baggage” still has a negative impact on present-day relationships and attitudes.

There’s a Biblical Principle of Marriage in Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” I call this verse the Old Testament equivalent of Philippians 3:13-14: “But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Spiritually, in order to fully live in the present we have to let go of the past. If we want to enjoy the Christian life and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord, we have to allow God’s grace to set us free from our past, and move forward in a new direction, with different habits and attitudes, forming a different lifestyle that is shaped by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. This might entail ending some relationships and forming new ones.

Relationally, if we want today’s marriage to succeed, we have to stop focusing on previous relationships, good or bad, and live the life we are currently called to live. We can’t afford to live in the past.

While Genesis states that it is the parents who must be left in order to form a new unity, there are others besides parents we must leave behind as well. These might include a boyfriend, girlfriend, or a previous lover or spouse. There may be a number of people and situations that have to be included in what we let go of: friends, abuse, wealth, lifestyle, job, fame, sports, or any number of things.

Future Past

One couple lost a son in a boating accident. The woman drove her husband to divorce because she was unable to let go of the pain and loss, unable to heal, and unable to stop blaming him. She couldn’t let go of yesterday, so it ruined today.

But it’s not only the negative that has to be left behind. Sometimes we have to let go of some positives: the good old days, a happy first marriage, the perfect job, a previous home and neighborhood, wealth, fame, or even a dream or ambition. An athlete whose playing days have come to an end is often headed for emotional and relationship disaster. A business person or a Soldier whose career comes to an end might find it hard to stop living that life and transition to retirement. Someone who loses a leg or an arm in an accident at work can have a tough time accepting the new reality, and letting go of the previous physical ability.

It is crucial that we understand the power of forgiveness. When we forgive, we release ourselves and others from the pain and injustice of the past. But forgiveness doesn’t happen quickly. It can’t happen quickly. It happens slowly, with a little understanding, and with some confusion. It has to sort out the anger, the pain, the betrayal, and the injustice. When forgiveness finishes its work, however, both the forgiver and the offender have been renewed, transformed, and liberated.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean there will be no scars. We typically carry the consequences of pain long after the hurting stops and forgiveness is complete. The Christian singing group Point of Grace sings a song called “Heal the Wound.” The words of the chorus deal with the scars that might remain for a lifetime.

Heal the wound but leave the scar

A reminder of how merciful You are

I am broken, torn apart

Take the pieces of this heart

And heal the wound but leave the scar

RiverOne middle-aged couple recognized that they still carried some of the baggage from their past, so they decided to do something about it. They had both been in a previous marriage, and still felt some attachment and affection for their exes. They also felt guilt and pain because of some of the decisions they had made early in life. They called their pastor for guidance. He suggested that they create a private ritual, during which they would identify the aspects of their past that they wanted to be free from. They also talked about how to forgive each other, and how to receive God’s forgiveness. They took a month to plan, and then went camping. The second day, they took a hike along the river, until they came to a suitable spot. They both wrote down the specifics of what they wanted to let go of. Then they read them to each other. They prayed and asked God to wash them, forgive them, and help them to let go of the past. They also asked each other for forgiveness. Then they threw their lists into the river. Watching them float downstream was therapeutic. The river represented a washing or cleansing, and they were able to start fresh, committed to each other, committed to living in the present.

To the degree that a couple is willing and able to leave the past, they have an opportunity to create a new unity as a couple. The opposite is also true. To the degree that they cannot or will not let go of the past, they will be unable to create the unity essential to growing a healthy, happy marriage.

Stranger in Boston

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The station wagon with the third seat facing the rear pulled into Boston. My two younger brothers and I rode that seat from California to Massachusetts, watching where we’d been, rather than where we were going.

3,177 miles backwards. For a while I was dizzy, car sick, nauseous, but after a while I got used to it.

third-seatThe ’59 Dodge was a big car. It seemed like Mom and Dad, and whoever else was sitting up front with them, were in a different county. The actual dimensions of this monstrous car? Just over eighteen feet long, six-and-a-half feet wide, weighing about 4,200 pounds. The advertised top speed was 120 MPH, but I never saw my parents drive faster than 115. Mom liked to drive fast. I remember my turn to sit up front and help her “stay awake” one night driving through the Arizona desert while Dad got some sleep. It was scary.

We got about nine miles per gallon if one or two people were in the car. Seven or eight miles a gallon when all ten of us went somewhere together, like we did on this cross-country trip. Nobody had seat belts back then.

As we pulled up to a traffic light in this strange city far from home, suddenly, my dad was yelling and talking excitedly. Someone outside was shouting and talking just as fast. From way back in the third row, I tried to see what was going on. Were my dad and the stranger mad at each other? Why were they yelling? I looked out the side window of our car and saw that the driver of the car next to us had dark skin and black curly hair. Why was he yelling at my dad? And why was my dad yelling back at him?

At first, it seemed they were angry with each other. But no, they weren’t upset. Rather they were excited and happy. They were yelling for joy. But why?

As I kept on looking at the man in the car next to us, I glanced down to see the license plate on his car. We had played the license plate game all across the country: keep track of all the license plates, and see who gets the most states. There were a lot of variations to that game; you’ve probably played something similar.

Riding backwards made it easier if the cars catching up to us had front license plates, because looking backwards I could see them before my brothers and sisters in the middle seat could see them. But if we were passing the other cars, then they got to see the license plates first. The way my parents drove, nobody ever passed us, so I never won the game.

traffic-lights-686041_1920At the red light in Boston, the license plate on the car next to us looked familiar. Was it? Yes! It was orange and black, a California license plate! We hadn’t seen one of those since we left home. Was that why Dad and the other guy were hollering? Yep, sure was.

There we were, our first day in Boston. We didn’t know a single soul in the city, or in the entire state of Massachusetts. But that first traffic light we stopped at in Boston placed us right next to another human being from California. It was his first day in Boston too.

My first memory of encountering an African-American, and the thing that stuck in my mind more than anything else was the connection that he and my dad made with each other. It wasn’t age; my dad was forty-two and the other guy seemed to be younger. It wasn’t family circumstance; my dad had a wife and eight kids in the car, while the other guy was single. It wasn’t that they had similar careers; my dad was in the Navy, and the other guy worked in a factory. And it wasn’t that they looked alike; my dad was a balding white guy, and the other guy was black with a full afro.

No, the connection they made with each other was simply that they had something in common. They were both from California, and that was enough. They were both more than 3,000 miles from home, and friendless – until that moment. They found someone from home.

I often think about that experience. Why is it that people who are different despise each other? Why do people of different skin color or different nationality or different language or different gender or different religion or different political party or different socioeconomic standing hate each other? Why can’t we do what my dad and the stranger did in Boston that day in 1962?

I was seven years old when we drove into Boston. Over the past fifty-plus years, I’ve tried to focus on what I have in common with other people, instead of our differences: marriage, kids, jobs, sports, music, food, weather, fears, dreams, movies, faith, or our human-ness. There’s so much we share, it’s a shame people choose to fight over their differences.

Something powerful and amazing happens when we connect over something we have in common.

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Grab Your Scroll

I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard a loud voice behind me like a trumpet saying, “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea” (Revelation 1:10-11, HCSB).

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Lloyd John Ogilvie is a tremendous communicator, an outstanding preacher who used his speaking skills in his Los Angeles congregation and on the radio. Because of his influence, in 1995 he was elected Chaplain of the United States Senate, where he served thirteen years. He considered the chaplaincy to be a non-political, non-partisan ministry. In his words, “I saw my role as Chaplain to be an intercessor for the members of the Senate family, a trusted prayer partner, and a faithful counselor to them as they sought to know and do God’s will in the monumental responsibilities entrusted to them.”

As effective as he is in person, perhaps through his writings he has reached more people than through his public speaking, publishing fifty-four books, and editing a commentary series.

According to Revelation chapter one, when the Lord wanted to communicate with his people, he chose a writer to do that. God still uses writers to speak to people, and not just writers who happen to be apostles. Those who have a calling to write, and a gift for communicating with words, can use any genre to communicate truth. This is just as true for writers of fiction and poetry as it is for nonfiction, just as applicable for bloggers and tweeters as it is for preachers, novelists, and playwrights.

If you have a vision for telling your story, communicating a message, or sharing hope with people in need, then you are like that apostle, except you have a laptop, a printer, and email instead of a quill and scroll. If your story rings true to your reader, the Lord can use you to inspire, enlighten, educate, and entertain.

It turns out that, in addition to being a great apostle, John was a really good writer. Similarly, Lloyd John Ogilvie was a great preacher, but also a fantastic writer. If you write with excellence, people will want what you have to offer. So, grab your scroll, and start writing.

Lord, we need your inspiration, so we may use the gifts you’ve given us to reach people with truth and hope. Encourage us when we’re feeling low, inspire us when we run dry, and restore us when we’ve fallen. In Christ’s name, amen.

Elegant Divider

This devotional was published on December 10, 2018 on a website for Christian writers called Inkspirations. Every week, http://www.inkspirationsonline.com posts a new encouraging article for writers.

In A Hurry and Running Late

usps-796059_1920As a newlywed attending a Christian college in Southern California, I was a driver for a private mail and parcel service. Every day, I was in posh high-rise office buildings and run-down strip malls, machine shops and Mom-and-Pop shops. By the time I worked there a year, I’d been in almost every post office in Orange County.

One day my boss asked me to come in early because we had a new corporate client in Newport Beach who requested an early pick-up and delivery. Before heading out, I checked my map. Traffic was heavy. I was in a hurry and running late.

do-not-enter-98935_1280When I got to the post office, I turned into the drive, only to discover that I was in a long, narrow, one-way exit lane with a big red sign announcing DO NOT ENTER. The situation demanded a fast decision. Do I back up into traffic and go around the block, looking for the entrance? Or do I step on the gas and zip into the parking lot before any one tries to exit? I pressed the pedal to the metal.

When I was almost out of the wrong-way lane, a car turned into the driveway. We both slammed on the brakes, barely avoiding a head-on collision. A bit shaken by the near-miss, I pulled up to the loading dock and put my mail onto a cart, but before I walked into the rear door of the post office, that same car sped around the building and screeched to a halt. Dressed in an expensive business suit, the driver got out and stomped towards me.

Instantly, Matthew 5:25 came to mind, “Make peace with your adversary while you’re still on your way.”

As the stranger approached, I walked up to him and said. “Sir, I owe you an apology. In a hurry, I drove into the exit. I was wrong, and would like to ask for your forgiveness.”

“Do you know who I am?” he demanded.

“No, sir. I just know that what I did was wrong. I nearly caused an accident, and I am sorry.”

“I am the postmaster,” his face a deep red by now. “I could ban you from every post office in the county. I could have the police ticket you for driving the wrong way. I could call your boss and have you fired.” When he paused, we stared nose to nose. “But tell you what. Because you admitted your wrongdoing without even knowing who I was, I will forgive you. Don’t let it happen again.”

I stood there stunned. If the Holy Spirit didn’t bring that verse to my mind at that instant, I would be in big trouble. If I let pride keep me from admitting my mistake, I might be unemployed by the end of the day.

It dawned on me that I really can trust the scripture when it says, “don’t worry about how to defend yourself, for the Holy Spirit will tell you what to say” Matthew 10:19-20. I had memorized those verses long before that morning, never realizing that I’d need to use them in a tight situation. Before driving away, I took a minute to thank the Lord for his Word and his Spirit.

After completing my route, I parked the van and took the keys to the office. While I filled out the time sheet, my boss walked in and said, “Hey, just wanted to let you know that the Newport Beach postmaster called to tell me he met you this morning.”

I froze.

“He said he was really impressed with you, and that you do good work. I Just wanted to pass that compliment on. Good job.”

Embarrassed, humbled, and relieved, I drove to the college. I was in a hurry and running late, barely getting there in time for class, but careful to obey every traffic sign.

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Light of the World

issac-newtonWhen the queen of England knighted Sir Isaac Newton, it was the first time a scientist was honored this way. He was a brilliant scholar with a wide range of interests: from mathematics to natural philosophy, from the laws of motion to the laws of gravity, from the study of optics to the study of theology.

His first series of lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge, was on optics. Other scientists had begun the scientific revolution, and the study of light was a central theme. Newton made significant contributions to the scientific understanding of white light and color. He even built the first reflecting telescope.

Light is a fascinating topic, and because of its significance, Jesus used it as a metaphor for himself when he made the statement in John 8:12, “I AM the light of the world.”  There are at least five reasons why light is important, and these factors provide insight as to what the Lord was saying.

First, light is essential for vision. Have you ever noticed as the sun goes down late in the day, shadows grow darker, and it’s more difficult to see? If the moon and the stars aren’t in the night sky, by the time it’s pitch black you see nothing.

Silhouette 3Light is also essential for color. As the light dims, colors fade. For this reason, light is a necessary ingredient for beauty in the world.

Third, the earth’s food chain depends on light. Photosynthesis is the process whereby plants use the energy of light to produce food. In other words, without light, there is no life.

It’s also worth noting that for a lot of people, light is a key element of happiness. Many studies have shown higher levels of depression where there is less natural light. This seems to be true for some who work indoors, as well as for those who live in areas where there are seasonally shorter days.

One more observation is that light can drive away fear. When our son was five years old, we’d put him to bed at night, singing a song and praying with him before turning out the light. In a few minutes, we’d hear him yelling, “There’s a wolf!”

“No, son. There’s not a wolf.”

“Yes, there is. Would you leave the light on?”

When the light was on, he could see, so he wasn’t afraid. But in the dark, his imagination slipped into high gear, and he was afraid.

The impact when Jesus comes into a person’s life is similar to light in the natural world. He opens our eyes, giving us vision. He adds color and beauty to our lives. He brings life and happiness, and drives away fear. Our Creator already knew what Sir Isaac Newton and other scientists took years to figure out, because he created light.

In Matthew 5:14, he who is the Light of the World turns to his disciples and in a stunning plot twist tells them, and us, “You are the light of the world.” We are called to be Christ to our world. The effect of our interacting with people and the planet should add vision, beauty, life, and happiness. And, wherever there’s a Christian presence, there should be less fear.

In the same way God sent his son into the world not to condemn, but to save, he sends us into the world with the same mission. When we represent the Lord the way he hopes we will, that’s when the church is at its best, becomes most productive, remains relevant, and changes the world.

Atlantic Sunrise

Speed Bumps

Speed Bump SignThere were four or five speed bumps on the road ahead, but what caught my attention was the car in front of me. As it approached each bump in the road, it veered way over to the right to go around it. Didn’t slow down. Just avoided the speed bumps.

I don’t mind speed bumps. They don’t bother me or my car in the least. Unless they are particularly obnoxious, or unless my wife is in the car with me, I go right over them without worrying. Without slowing very much, either, I must confess.

When the car ahead got to the last speed bump, there was a parked car on the side of the road, so the driver had no choice but to go over the bump. To accomplish this feat, he came to a complete stop. Then he crawled over the speed bump as if his car might be damaged if it went more than 2 MPH over that obstacle. It was a fairly new car, and it didn’t seem fragile. Yet he crept over that speed bump as if his very life depended on not going any faster than the snail on the sidewalk next to him. The earthworm on the other side sped past him. Just zipped on by!

I watched the scene play out, trying to remain patient. I had a meeting to attend, but I could wait a little longer to see what the fellow would do. See if his jalopy would survive the ordeal of climbing over that mountain. It got all the way to the top of the speed bump and eased down the other side. Then the driver looked around, breathed a heavy sigh of relief, and accelerated. He was a success. A survivor. He was having a good day!

After the meeting, I thought about the speed bump episode. We all face bumps in the road in everyday life. Sometimes we call them hiccups or obstacles. Some people refuse to use the word “problem,” preferring, instead, to call them “challenges.” But they’re real.

Jesus said plainly in John 16:33 that there’ll be trouble, sorrow, pain, and difficulty in this world. Different translations of the Bible use words like tribulation, trials, distress, and afflictions. The Greek word is thlipsis, which refers to a variety of tough circumstances.

The fact is, life is tough. And just when you think it’s going to ease up a bit, it gets harder. It tests your faith. It raises hard questions. It makes you want to run away. “But be of good cheer,” the Lord goes on to say. “Take heart, be brave, don’t let it defeat you.”

Jesus knew about hardship. He knew what it meant to suffer, to hurt, to wish things could turn out differently. So did James, who wrote that we can be joyful even when going through tough stuff, knowing that the Lord is at work in our lives. So did Paul, who said God was working for our good in every situation. Even when hitting those speed bumps.

Years ago, in a pick-up game of basketball, the other team got a rebound and was running a 4-on-1 fast break. Trying to defend them, I turned to reach for the ball. In doing so, I twisted my knee, snapped my ACL, and landed on the ground in pain. Surgery was followed by months of physical therapy.

To this day, I have an awareness and a compassion for people who have a leg, knee, or foot injury. Whenever I see someone in a wheelchair, on crutches, or wearing a knee brace, I remember what it was like falling to the ground in agony, then being helped off the court by friends. For a moment, I relive the exercises designed to restore strength and range of motion.  My painful experience helped me become more aware of other people and what they’re going through.

We can’t avoid speed bumps, can’t always drive around them like the guy in front me was trying to do. There will always be problems, challenges, and obstacles. Some will be overwhelming, others mere hiccups. What we can do is face them with courage, patience, and confidence, staying open to the idea that they just might lead to personal growth and maturity, and just maybe help us develop a sense of compassion and an ability to relate to other people.

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Unity Produces Winners

quarterback-73614_1920Football season is in full swing. All across the nation, players and fans have high hopes and great expectations that their team will win. And let’s be honest, for most people, it’s not how you play the game. It’s whether you win or lose.

Last week, several sportswriters interviewed a college quarterback whose team just won a big game. They had beaten a good team by a pretty wide margin, and when asked how he did it, the QB deflected the praise. “It was my guys. They played a great game. I know I can count on them to come through.” Another question elicited this answer, “The reason we’re doing so well is that we all bought into what the coaches are telling us. There’s no fighting or working against each other here.”

Winners always have one thing in common: They have team chemistry and camaraderie. After a successful game, and especially after the season ends and they win the championship, a reporter inevitably asks the question, “What’s special about this team? What made it possible to win it all?” And the answer is always, “We’re a family. On and off the field. We have a sense of togetherness that really made it happen. I love these guys.”

The same happens in any sport. Unity produces winners, and this dynamic is at play in every field, whether a business, a school, a club, a fraternity, a church, a military unit, a marriage, or a family. Even in politics.

In Matthew 12:25 Jesus says, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.”

A kingdom? A city? A household? The context of his statement is the spiritual realm, which means the same principles are at work in the spiritual dimension as they are in human relationships, athletics, and the business world.

We see this again in Matthew 18:19-20. “If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them.”

According to these verses, unity turns on the power of God, and invites the presence of God. No wonder unity produces winners. We need the power and the presence of God at work in our lives and our relationships.

Years ago, my wife and I adopted the slogan “We’re on the Same Team.” We’re both competitive, and there’s a potential for one of us to feel good for winning, at the expense of the other feeling bad for losing, and we don’t want that to happen. In reality, husband and wife both win, or they both lose. Everyone in the church wins, or the church loses. Just like on the football team, everyone wins, or everyone loses.

Unity produces winners.

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Broken & Hurting

loneliness-1879453_1920Many people experience the worst life has to offer. Sometimes, the pain is the result of illness or accident, but at times it is intentionally inflicted by other people.

Debbie grew up in a Christian home, and shortly after high school, met Kyle, a young man who attended the same church. After dating for a year, Kyle asked her to marry him, and she said “yes,” expecting to live happily ever after.

A few months after the wedding, however, Debbie was still on cloud nine when something went terribly wrong. When she got home from work one day, she found out he’d been drinking, and in a rage, he hit her. Horrified, she called their pastor, who provided counseling for several weeks. Things seemed to be getting better, until one night Kyle put a loaded gun to her head. In a panic, Debbie managed to escape. Even though her grandmother lived several miles away, Debbie somehow found the strength to run all the way. She survived, but something inside had broken, making it hard to trust anyone. She left Kyle and abandoned her faith in Christ.

Every one of us is broken in some way. We might look fine on the outside, but inside we’re hurting. If we’re to find healing or any positive result from the pain, it might be helpful to take a look at Job, James, and Jesus to see how we can respond in painful circumstances.

Even though he did everything right, Job suffered terrible business losses, extreme physical pain, and undeserved accusations from his friends. His wife also lost everything, and chose to let go of hope and faith, suggesting that he do the same. Instead, Job turned to the Lord, and began to understand more fully his own weakness and need for God. These are important lessons that sometimes have to be learned the hard way. We have a tendency to be self-sufficient, unaware of our desperate need for God. In his darkest moments, Job chose to turn toward the Lord, and so can we.

The second possibility for meaning in our pain is character growth. James 1:2-4 tells us to remain joyful when we endure tests and trials, because they will help us mature. It is true that pain can break us, but it also has a way of strengthening us and deepening us. The difference is how we respond to the crisis and to the work of the Holy Spirit.

A third potential benefit of tribulation is that it can help us develop compassion for others. When Jesus looked at the crowds, he saw their need and was moved to compassion. He cared about people and saw their hurts. He felt their need, and acted. He fed them, healed them, taught them, loved them. The Apostle Paul picks up this theme in 2 Corinthians 1:4 when he says the Lord comforts us in our troubles so that we can comfort others.

Some people respond to pain by becoming hardened, bitter, or angry. Others are jealous of those who seem to have everything going right. If we want to grow in Christ and enjoy life to its fullest, however, we can’t afford to let either of those happen. Instead, we can turn to the Lord, mature as human beings, and develop a sense of compassion for others.

Silver

There’s a song in the musical version of Les Misérables that a Christian pastor sings to a hungry, homeless criminal, “Come in, sir, for you are weary, and the night is cold out there. There’s a bed to rest til morning, rest from pain and rest from wrong.”

That’s what the Lord is saying to us in Matthew 11:28. “Come to me, you who are tired, carrying a heavy load, and I will give you rest.” Rest from pain, and rest from wrong.

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