A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:34–35
Love is irresistible for those in search of a Savior. Everyone whose heart aches for authentic relationship will take notice when seeing Christians love one another. Parents who encourage and build up their sons and daughters are a magnet to their children’s friends who live lonely lives in discouraging and disruptive home environments.
Have you thought of your home as a sanctuary for seeking souls? Every time a neighbor drops by, a friend stays overnight, or you host a party for your child’s team, you have an opportunity to model the love of Jesus toward those you know and to those whom you meet for the first time. Leverage love for the Lord, and He will draw people to Himself.
“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13).
Being a disciple of Jesus does have its benefits, and being loved is close to the top. When you placed your faith in Christ, you became a giver and receiver of Christian love. So do not resist the righteous care that Christ followers extend on your behalf. Be glad you model the love of God’s children that can melt the hearts of outside observers. “Why,” they ask, “do people give so much, expecting nothing in return?”
How do you intentionally love your brothers and sisters in Christ? Do you share relationships, money, your vacation home, your primary residence, or your car? It may be showing up during a health issue, praying for a job interview, babysitting their little one, or mowing their grass. Unbelievers take notice when believers lavishly love each other.
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13).
Our capacity to love is limited only by the Lord’s capacity to love us, to love in us, and to love through us. His love removes our insensitive heart and replaces it with sensitivity. The Almighty’s agape love arranges our priorities around the needs of others first and ours second. His love first comforts pain in people and then waits for the appropriate time to administer truth. This level of unconditional love is a conduit for the lost to know Christ.
“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:11–12).
Prayer: Am I receiving God’s love? Whom do I know who needs my unselfish love and attention?
Related Readings: 2 Corinthians 13:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 3 John 1:7-8
Taken from the April 6th reading in Boyd’s 365-day devotional book, “Seeking Daily the Heart of God vol. 2”
Post/Tweet today: Unbelievers take notice when believers lavishly love each other. #wisdomhunters
© 2014 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.
Wisdom Hunters Resources / A registered 501 c3 ministry firstname.lastname@example.org /www.wisdomhunters.com
"As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?" Psalm 42:1-2
A fainting faith is forever in search of its heavenly Father. There is a building intensity for intimacy with the Almighty. Sometimes your faith faints from sheer exhaustion. It passes out for lack of prayer or even during prayer. Do not allow divine duty to drive you for very long. This is not a sustainable pace or prayer-friendly posture. Rest instead in the continual call of Christ. Service to God without communion with Christ, leads to spiritual fatigue. Your soul’s life is sucked out because fainting faith leaves you in a state of spiritual fatigue. The scary thing is that you may be unaware that your faith is on the brink of fainting.
So keep your life’s pace governed by grace, or you will outrun your soul. Time with your Master requires margin. In fact, any significant relational investments take place in the margin of your life. Margin is like the white space on a page of paper. It makes reading enjoyable, digestible, and inviting to the eye. In the same way, lives with margin are inviting. You are not an interruption to people with margin because they know how to make time for those who matter. That’s how you should look at your time with Jesus. Carve out space on your calendar to be with your Savior. You can do this by faith, trusting that the Lord will make up for any lost time. Christ can get things done without you. “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
A deer, by instinct, has no other thought than to slow down and drink as often as needed. Your soul cannot stand sustained times without hydration either, but we sometimes fail to take the time. Jeremiah reprimanded the people for ignoring their need for the Lord, “…they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water” (Jeremiah 17:13b). Just as water is necessary for your body to function, so drinking from divine resources is required for your soul to sustain itself. Otherwise, your faith faints for lack of the Lord. Your soul’s thirst is a perpetual appetite that can only be quenched by Christ. Drunkards try to replace their soul’s longing with liquor. It doesn’t work, for it makes matters worse by seeking a substitute for their Savior. Drink is a synthetic savior for a thirsty soul.
You can meet with the Lord immediately. He is always accessible. Get on your knees and pour out your soul in prayer. Drink in the love of the Lord. Guzzle down the grace of God. Sip on the joy of Jesus. Go to church and lift up your soul in worship to your great and mighty God. Drink in the praise and adoration of God’s glory with other sincere believers in Jesus. Your soul is satisfied in environments that engage you with eternity. Worship, Bible study, prayer, and community with Christ-followers quench our thirsty souls. The world parches your soul, but heaven hydrates your heart. Your faith will flourish and not faint as you take the time to quench your thirsty soul. Drink often with Jesus. “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water” (Revelation 7:17). He refreshes.
Taken from the April 5th reading in Boyd’s 365-day devotional book, “Seeking Daily the Heart of God vol. 1”
Post/Tweet today: Service to God, without communion with Christ, leads to spiritual fatigue. #wisdomhunters
© 2014 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.
Wisdom Hunters Resources / A registered 501 c3 ministry email@example.com /www.wisdomhunters.com
The royal official said, “‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’ ‘Go,’ Jesus replied, ‘your son will live.’” John 4:49-50
A father whose faith in Christ is imperfect, will grow the more he gets to know Christ. This nobleman had heard about Jesus, but did not realize the Lord could speak a word, and instantly yet virtually, heal his son. Geographic distance does not limit the healing power of God’s grace. We petition our heavenly Father on behalf of our distant child, and He hears us with a heart to heal their hearts. Job number one as a father is to stay faithful in bold prayers for our progeny.
Included in the job description of fathers is to fix things. We fix leaky faucets or call a plumber! We fix toys trampled by little feet. We fix cars, lawn mowers and bicycles. Often we repair broken lamps, brittle chairs, wobbly tables and washing machines. As the servant leader of the family, financial shortfalls, relational conflict, and problem solving in general, fall under our responsibility. However, the real test of faith is when we face something out of our control.
“Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4).
Faith can be an irritant for controlling fathers, because it sometimes means they have to wait. Results may depend on God and other people. Perhaps you are waiting for your adult son to become a better leader. You need him to take on more responsibility. He may, but there are some leadership lessons that come only with experience. Your son needs to hear you say it’s ok to fail and you will always be there to support him. Learning to wait on God grows your faith in God.
Furthermore, what is our reaction as a dad when our child is stricken by a severe illness, injury, or insult? Will we seek the Lord’s mercy, or will we ignore the Lord, since we are mad? Our faith grows when we go to God for our suffering child. Our son or daughter may be made fun of for their faith in Jesus. If so, we need to pray with them for their offenders. Model for them forgiveness, not retaliation. If your child is sick, go boldly to God’s throne of grace--receive mercy, seek healing. God hears and often heals. Our needy children need to see our faith grow.
“The living, the living—they praise you, as I am doing today; parents tell their children about your faithfulness” (Isaiah 38:19).
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the blessing of my needy children. By Your grace, I need You to grow my faith.
Related Readings: Genesis 20:17; Daniel 4:3; Mark 5:34; Hebrews 2:13, 11:1; 1 John 5:1
Post/Tweet today: Learning to wait on God grows our faith in God. #wisdomhunters
© 2014 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.
Wisdom Hunters Resources / A registered 501 c3 ministry firstname.lastname@example.org /www.wisdomhunters.com
As stories began to emerge after the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, several survivors from the South Tower mentioned a courageous young man who mysteriously appeared from the smoke and led them to safety. They did not know who this man was who saved their lives, but this they remembered: wrapped over his mouth and nose was a red bandana.
For fifty-six minutes the man in the red bandana shouted orders and led people down a stairwell to safety. “I found the stairs. Follow me,” he would say. He carried one woman down seventeen flights of stairs on his back. He set her down and urged others to help her and keep moving down. Then he headed back up.
A badly injured woman was sitting on a radiator, waiting for help, when the man with the red bandana over his face came running across the room. “Follow me,” he told her. “I know the way out. I will lead you to safety.” He guided her and another group through the mayhem to the stairwell, got them started down toward freedom, and then disappeared back up into the smoke.
He was never seen again.
Six months later, on March 19, 2002, the body of the man with the red bandana was found intact alongside firefighters in a makeshift command center in the South Tower lobby, buried under 110 stories of rubble.
Slowly the story began to come out. His name was Welles Crowther. In high school he was the kid who would feed the puck to the hockey team’s worst player, hoping to give his teammate that first goal. He became a junior volunteer firefighter in Upper Nyack, New York, following in his dad’s footsteps.
Welles graduated from Boston College, where he played lacrosse, always with his trademark red bandana. His father had always carried a blue bandana.
After college he worked as an equities trader on the 104th floor of the South Tower. He had a habit of putting change in his pocket in the morning to give to street people on his way to work.
Not long before September 11, Welles told his father, “I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this work.” He was restless for more. Crunching numbers for invisible clients just didn’t seem like what he was born to do. He dreamed of becoming a firefighter or public servant.
On September 11, 2001, at the age of twenty-four, Welles Crowther became both. And also a hero, because he was willing to go up while everyone else was coming down.
There Must Be More
This story touches a need deep inside me—something so primal that I find it hard to put into words. But it makes me yearn to feel more alive. And every man with whom I’ve ever shared it has felt the same way.
Like Welles, we all want to make a contribution and leave the world a better place. It is a primal need—one among many. By “primal,” I mean that as men we have a raw, restless energy that’s different from women. It needs to be channeled, chiseled, transformed.
Over the last four decades, I’ve met one-on-one with thousands of men over coffee, in restaurants, in offices, online, after Bible studies, or just hanging out at the racetrack—men like you. I’ve listened to their stories. I’ve heard what they said and didn’t say. Christian men know—or strongly sense—that we were created to lead powerful lives transformed by Christ.
But something is blocking them. With a few inspiring exceptions, most men I talk to are confused about what a powerful, transformed life really looks like, regardless of how much “I love Jesus” they’ve got. They have high hopes for what Christianity offers but little to show for it. Their instincts are screaming, There must be more! When men try to put into words what keeps them from feeling fully alive, they invariably describe one or more of these seven symptoms:
- “I just feel like I am in this thing all alone.” - “I don’t feel like God cares about me personally—not really.” - “I don’t feel like my life has a purpose. It seems random.” - “I have a lot of destructive behaviors that keep dragging me down.” - “My soul feels dry.” - “My most important relationships are not working.” - “I don’t feel like I’m doing anything that will make a difference and leave the world a better place.”
Do you feel the angst? Do you see yourself on this list? As you can see, as men, our similarities dwarf our differences. These inner aches and pains—these yearnings—correspond to the seven primal, instinctive needs we’ll be exploring in this book.
The High Cost of Being Half Alive
I’d estimate that as many as 90 percent of Christian men lead lukewarm, stagnant, often defeated lives. They’re mired in spiritual mediocrity—and they hate it. Despite their good intentions, after they “walk the aisle” and “pray the sinner’s prayer,” most men return to their seats and resume their former lives. They don’t take the next steps. Almost imperceptibly, one disappointment at a time, the world sucks out their newfound joy and passion for life in Christ.
Men lose heart, go silent, and anesthetize their pain. Then they give up, burn out, drop out, or just slowly drift away. It’s not just getting older; it’s an assassination of the soul. And isn’t that exactly what the enemy of our souls wants? As Jesus said, referring to the devil, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10).
No man fails on purpose. None of us wakes up in the morning and thinks, I wonder what I can do today to irritate my wife, neglect my kids, work too much, and have a moral failure. But many of us will.
The statistics are jarring:
- 80 percent of men are so emotionally impaired that not only are they unable to express their feelings, but they are even unable to identify their feelings. - 55 percent of marriages experience financial dishonesty, and it’s usually the husband. - 50 percent of men who attend church actively seek out pornography. - 40 percent of men get divorced, affecting one million children each year.
The collateral damage is staggering. Tonight, one-third of America’s seventy-two million children will go to bed in a home without their biological dad. But perhaps the greatest cost to the physical absence of fathers is the practical absence of mothers. Essentially, one person must now do the work of two. As a young woman who grew up without a dad said, “When my mom and dad divorced, I didn’t just lose my dad. I also lost my mom, because she had to work long hours to support us.” A man leaves. A woman weeps herself to sleep. A little girl prays, “God, why is my daddy always so angry with me?” The men problem has made Dr. Phil a very rich man.
There has to be a better way.
Excerpted from Man Alive by Patrick Morley Copyright © 2012 by Patrick Morley. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
"... aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you." 1 Thessalonians 4:11 (ESV)
I did it again. Stepped in to a situation that didn't concern me. I told myself I was helping, but it wasn't my place to speak up. As usual, it backfired.
Contemplating all that had happened that evening, Jesus spoke to me. Of course, not literally spoke to me, but He nudged my heart: You're a meddler, Lynn, and you need to be done with it. When you meddle, you are not trusting. When you meddle, you are saying I can't handle it. You know I can. So be done with it. No more.
I'm a meddler.
I like to say I'm a "fixer." That's what I have called it in the past, but truth is, that's just a nicer way of putting it.
Not a gossiper. No, that is someone who intentionally separates and that's not my heart. I want to help. Really I do.
I'm a meddler. Dictionary.com defines the verb "meddle" this way: "To involve oneself in a matter without right or invitation; interfere officiously and unwantedly."
Without right or invitation. That's what I do. Seeing an unhappy, unhealthy or unholy situation I listen to the whisper in my head. Since I see it, I think I'm instructed to do something about it.
But most often, I am not. In fact, 1 Thessalonians 4:11 says "... aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you."
My place is to be quiet and pray. But I still prefer to fix, manipulate and get involved.
In other words, I meddle.
So, there you have it. Now that I see my actions for what they are, it's my responsibility to change. And in order to change, I will have to slow down before I take action or open my mouth. I'll have to ask myself: Are you meddling?
Will I be tempted to meddle? Every day. Will I mess up? I hope not, but it's highly probable. I'm human. My desire, though, is to mind my own affairs and let Jesus get involved. I will ask Him for prayers to pray, not words to say.
This change is going to be hard. But I know Jesus is serious about not meddling. Proverbs 26:17 says, "Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears" (ESV). In other words, meddling isn't smart! And that is not what I want to be; I want to be wise.
Any other meddlers out there? Can you think of times when you got involved and you shouldn't have? Especially when the thing Jesus wanted you to do was to pray — and only pray? Let's pray for each other and ask Jesus to open our eyes to see and leave our troubles up to Him.
Jesus, I'm a woman who wants to be a fixer. But that's not really my place; it's Yours. Open my eyes before I step in, and empower me to resist the temptation to get involved. Teach me to pray instead, Lord. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
Reflect and Respond: What particular circumstances draw out the meddler in you? Trouble between friends? Arguments between family members? Right now, ask the Holy Spirit for prayers to pray for those you love instead of words to say.
Often meddling is fueled by fear. Ask yourself: What do I fear?
Power Verses: Matthew 7:3-5, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (NIV)
© 2014 by Lynn Cowell. All rights reserved.
Proverbs 31 Ministries 630 Team Rd., Suite 100 Matthews, NC 28105 www.Proverbs31.org
But whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. John 4:14
Christ refreshes us, so we are equipped to refresh others. His internal energy is not contingent on external circumstances. Like an old fashioned water wheel creates power by the constant flow of a creek or river, so our hearts are energized by our faith in Christ’s fountain of living water. Our appetite for Almighty God grows in intensity through our intimacy with Him. Temporary escapes are like soft drinks, there is a short-term satisfaction, but they only prolong the thirst cycle. But spiritual hydration from drinking in Jesus through prayer and worship, truly refreshes our heart.
Are you in need of the Lord’s refreshment? Who comes to mind that you can refresh? Single adults fearful of not getting married need refreshment. Senior adults fearful of dying need refreshment. Widows and widowers fearful of loneliness need refreshment. Divorcees need refreshment. Hard charging leaders need refreshment. Perhaps you ask a close confidant how you can be a refreshment to them. The Lord refreshes our hearts, so we can refresh other weary hearts.
“A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:25).
The benefit of being a refresher is its reciprocal nature. By God’s grace we unexpectedly receive refreshment, for this is the Lord’s cycle of refreshment. This principle of receiving back new energy is humbling and life giving. So, a man or woman who spends much of their waking hours investing in relationships, may one day find themselves on their backs. Illness or injury may strike them down, only to find their spirits lifted by friends. Emails fill their inbox, texts flood their phone, and calls flow in full of encouragement. If we refresh others we will be refreshed!
Furthermore, learn to enjoy reciprocal refreshment. Be a generous receiver, as well as a generous giver. What does it mean to be a generous receiver? We say thank you to the ones who refresh us and in our spirit we whisper a thank you to our heavenly Father for sending us His agent of encouragement. Most of all, our Savior’s living water wells up to eternal life for our souls. It’s not our proud, stoic independence that’s life giving. Instead, it’s our humble dependence on Jesus, whose life giving water flows from us. So, drink often: sip, swig or guzzle, but drink of Him!
“The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7).
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the refreshment of Your living water in Christ.
Related Readings: Psalm 23:3, 68:9; Jeremiah 31:25; 1 Corinthians 16:18; Philemon 1:7, 20
Post/Tweet today: Christ refreshes us to refresh others. His internal energy is not contingent on external circumstances. #wisdomhunters
© 2014 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.
Why Is the Problem of Evil and Suffering So Important?The problem of evil and suffering moves from the philosophical to the personal in a moment of time.
Angels may weep because the world is filled with suffering. A human being weeps because his daughter, she and not another, has died of leukemia this very night, or because her village, the only world she knows, is burning and the mutilated bodies of her husband and her son lie at her feet.
Three weeks after his thirty-three-year-old son, Christopher, died in a car crash, pastor and evangelist Greg Laurie addressed a crowd of twenty-nine thousand at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California. “I’ve talked about Heaven my whole life,” Laurie said, “and I’ve given many messages on life after death. I’ve counseled many people who have lost a loved one, and I thought I knew a little bit about it. But I have to say that when it happens to you, it’s a whole new world.” The day his son died, he told the crowd, was “the hardest day of my life.”
When I spoke with Greg ten months later, his faith was strong, but his profound sense of loss remained. Pain is always local. It has a face and a name. And sometimes, for now, it doesn’t go away.
The American response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, demonstrated that large-scale evil and suffering usually remain distant from us.
In Sudan, millions, including children, have been murdered, raped, and enslaved. The 2004 Asian tsunami killed more than 280,000 people. Malaria causes more than two million fatalities annually, the majority of them African children. Around the world, some 26,500 children die every day; eighteen every minute.
The loss of American lives in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, numbered 2,973–horrible indeed, yet a small fraction of the terror and loss of life faced daily around the world. The death toll in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, for example, amounted to more than two World Trade Center disasters every day for one hundred days straight. Americans discovered in one day what much of the world already knew–violent death comes quickly, hits hard, and can be unspeakably dreadful.
If we open our eyes, we’ll see the problem of evil and suffering even when it doesn’t touch us directly.
A friend of ours spoke at a Christian gathering. On her way back to her car, someone raped her. She became pregnant and gave birth to her first child. Because racial differences would have made it clear her husband hadn’t fathered the baby, the couple placed the infant for adoption. Since then, they’ve been unable to conceive another child. Her lifelong dream of raising children remains unfulfilled.
I once had to tell a wife, son, and daughter that their husband and father had died on a hunting trip. I still remember the anguished face of the little girl, then hearing her wail, “Not Daddy, no, not Daddy!”
Years ago I had to tell my mother that her only brother had been murdered with a meat cleaver.
A Christian woman tipped over on her riding lawn mower and fell into a pond. The machine landed on top of her, pinning her to the bottom and drowning her. Such a bizarre death prompted some to ask, “Why, God?” and “Why like this?”
After his wife died, in great pain C. S. Lewis realized, “If I had really cared, as I thought I did, about the sorrows of the world, I should not have been so overwhelmed when my own sorrow came.”
Our own suffering is often our wake-up call. But even if you aren’t now facing it, look around and you’ll see many who are.
Why Talk About the Problem?
More people point to the problem of evil and suffering as their reason for not believing in God than any other–it is not merely a problem, it is the problem.
A Barna poll asked, “If you could ask God only one question and you knew he would give you an answer, what would you ask?” The most common response was, “Why is there pain and suffering in the world?”
John Stott says -
The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith, and has been in every generation. Its distribution and degree appear to be entirely random and therefore unfair. Sensitive spirits ask if it can possibly be reconciled with God’s justice and love.
Richard Swinburne, writing in the Oxford Companion to Philosophy, says the problem of evil is “the most powerful objection to traditional theism.”
Ronald Nash writes, “Objections to theism come and go.… But every philosopher I know believes that the most serious challenge to theism was, is, and will continue to be the problem of evil.”
You will not get far in a conversation with someone who rejects the Christian faith before the problem of evil is raised. Pulled out like the ultimate trump card, it’s supposed to silence believers and prove that the all-good and all-powerful God of the Bible doesn’t exist.
The problem of evil is atheism’s cornerstone. German playwright Georg Büchner (1813—37) called the problem of evil “the rock of atheism.” Atheists point to the problem of evil as proof that the God of the Bible doesn’t exist. Every day the ancient argument gets raised in college philosophy classes, coffee shops, dinner discussions, e-mail exchanges, blogs, talk shows, and best-selling books.
Atheists write page after page about evil and suffering. The problem of evil never strays far from their view; it intrudes upon chapters with vastly different subjects. It’s one of the central reasons Sam Harris writes, “Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply an admission of the obvious.”Harris then scolds Christians, saying about intelligent people (such as himself ), “We stand dumbstruck by you–by your denial of tangible reality, by the suffering you create in service to your religious myths, and by your attachment to an imaginary God.” (At least we know what he’s thinking!)
Many suppose that scientific evidence is the cornerstone of atheism. But the famous one-time champion of atheism, Britain’s Anthony Flew, renounced his atheism due to the complexity of the universe and his belief in the overwhelming evidence for intelligent design. After examining Richard Dawkins’s reasoning in The God Delusion–that the origin of life can be attributed to a “lucky chance”– Flew said, “If that’s the best argument you have, then the game is over.” However, although he abandoned his atheism, Flew did not convert to the Christian faith, but to deism. Why? Flew could not get past the problem of evil. He believes that God must have created the universe, then abandoned it. A faith that leaves us unprepared for suffering is a false faith that deserves to be lost. A lot of bad theology inevitably surfaces when we face suffering. John Piper writes, “Wimpy worldviews make wimpy Christians. And wimpy Christians won’t survive the days ahead.”
Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl wrote, “Just as the small fire is extinguished by the storm whereas a large fire is enhanced by it, likewise a weak faith is weakened by predicaments and catastrophes whereas a strong faith is strengthened by them.” When people lose their faith because of suffering, it’s usually a weak or nominal faith that doesn’t account for or prepare them for evil and suffering. I believe that any faith not based on the truth needs to be lost. The sooner, the better.
Believing God exists is not the same as trusting the God who exists. A nominal Christian often discovers in suffering that his faith has been in his church, denomination, or family tradition, but not Christ. As he faces evil and suffering, he may lose his faith. But that’s actually a good thing. I have sympathy for people who lose their faith, but any faith lost in suffering wasn’t a faith worth keeping. (Genuine faith will be tested; false faith will be lost.)
If you base your faith on lack of affliction, your faith lives on the brink of extinction and will fall apart because of a frightening diagnosis or a shattering phone call. Token faith will not survive suffering, nor should it.
Suffering and evil exert a force that either pushes us away from God or pulls us toward him. I know a man who lost his faith after facing terrible evil, suffering, and injustice. My heart breaks for him, and I pray that my family and I will never suffer what he did. But if personal suffering gives sufficient evidence that God doesn’t exist, then surely I shouldn’t wait until I suffer to conclude he’s a myth. If my suffering would one day justify denying God, then I should deny him now in light of other people’s suffering.
The devastation of tragedy feels just as real for people whose faith endures suffering.But because they know that others have suffered and learned to trust God anyway, they can apply that trust to God as they face their own disasters. Because they do not place their hope for health and abundance and secure relationships in this life, but in an eternal life to come, their hope remains firm regardless of what happens.
Losing your faith may be God’s gift to you. Only when you jettison ungrounded and untrue faith can you replace it with valid faith in the true God–faith that can pass, and even find strength in, the most formidable of life’s tests.
In her moving book The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion writes about the sudden, unexpected death of her husband. As I read, my heart broke not only for what happened to her, but for the first six words of the book’s concluding sentence: “No eye is on the sparrow.”
Didion apparently means that so far as she can tell, there is no God, or at least, no God who cares and watches over us. She’s most likely a normal hurting person who needs men and women around her who can see God in the midst of their suffering, so they might help her see him in hers. Suffering will come; we owe it to God, ourselves, and those around us to prepare for it.Live long enough and you will suffer. In this life, the only way to avoid suffering is to die.
Bethany Hamilton grew up surfing on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. At age five she chose to follow Jesus. When she was thirteen, a fourteen-foot tiger shark attacked her, severing one of her arms. Bethany returned to surfing one month later. A year later, despite her disability, she won her first national title.
Bethany says, “It was Jesus Christ who gave me peace when I got attacked by the shark.… And it was what God had taught me growing up that helped me overcome my fears…to get back into the water to keep surfing.”
She continues, “My mom and I were praying before the shark attack that God would use me. Well, to me, 1 Timothy 1:12 kind of tells me that God considered me faithful enough to appoint me to his service. I just want to say that no matter who you are, God can use you even if you think you’re not the kind of person that can be used. You might think: why would God use me? That’s what I thought.… I was like thirteen and there God goes using me!”
Bethany and her parents had given careful thought to the God they served and his sovereign purposes. Obviously not every tragedy leads to winning a national title, but Bethany began where all of us can, by trusting God; in her case, with a support system of people having an eternal perspective. Hence, she was prepared to face suffering when it came, and to emerge stronger.
Unfortunately, most evangelical churches–whether traditional, liturgical, or emergent–have failed to teach people to think biblically about the realities of evil and suffering. A pastor’s daughter told me, “I was never taught the Christian life was going to be difficult. I’ve discovered it is, and I wasn’t ready.”
A young woman battling cancer wrote me, “I was surprised that when it happened, it was hard and it hurt and I was sad and I couldn’t find anything good or redeeming about my losses. I never expected that a Christian who had access to God could feel so empty and alone.”
Our failure to teach a biblical theology of suffering leaves Christians unprepared for harsh realities. It also leaves our children vulnerable to history, philosophy, and global studies classes that raise the problems of evil and suffering while denying the Christian worldview. Since the question will be raised, shouldn’t Christian parents and churches raise it first and take people to Scripture to see what God says about it?
Most of us don’t give focused thought to evil and suffering until we experience them. This forces us to formulate perspective on the fly, at a time when our thinking is muddled and we’re exhausted and consumed by pressing issues. Readers who have “been there” will attest that it’s far better to think through suffering in advance.
Sometimes sufferers reach out for answers to those woefully unprepared. A physician’s assistant friend of ours wrote -
When I was admitted to the hospital in sepsis with a 50/50 chance of survival, I asked the chaplain how we could believe that God is love, when this felt like the antithesis of love. I said I wouldn’t inflict this much suffering on someone I hated, let alone someone I loved. She told me she would “look it up,” then left my room and never came back. I posed the same question to the social worker who came to visit me a few days later. She told me that God’s like a giant and we’re like little ants, and sometimes He accidentally steps on our ant hills and some of us get hurt. She said our suffering is random and God’s probably not even aware of it.
Pastor James Montgomery Boice had a clearer perspective. In May 2000, he stood before his Philadelphia church and explained that he’d been diagnosed with liver cancer:
Should you pray for a miracle? Well, you’re free to do that, of course. My general impression is that the God who is able to do miracles–and He certainly can–is also able to keep you from getting the problem in the first place. So although miracles do happen, they’re rare by definition.…Above all, I would say pray for the glory of God. If you think of God glorifying Himself in history and you say, where in all of history has God most glorified Himself? He did it at the cross of Jesus Christ, and it wasn’t by delivering Jesus from the cross, though He could have.…God is in charge. When things like this come into our lives, they are not accidental. It’s not as if God somehow forgot what was going on, and something bad slipped by.… God is not only the one who is in charge; God is also good. Everything He does is good.… If God does something in your life, would you change it? If you’d change it, you’d make it worse. It wouldn’t be as good.
Eight weeks later, having taught his people first how to live and then how to die, Pastor Boice departed this world to “be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23).
On the other side of death, the Bible promises that all who know him will fall into the open arms of a holy, loving, and gracious God–the greatest miracle, the answer to the problem of evil and suffering. He promises us an eternal kingdom on the New Earth, where he says of those who come to trust him in this present world of evil and suffering, “They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:3—4).
Excerpted from If God Is Good by Randy Alcorn Copyright © 2009 by Randy Alcorn. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.