Why? Why? Why?

Guest Post by James N. Watkins

If you have children, nieces and nephews, or younger siblings, you know that a three-year-old’s favorite word is “why.”

“Johnny, hold my hand while we cross the street.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t want you to run out in front of a car.”

“Why?”

“Because if a car hits you, you’ll be hurt or killed.”

“Why?”

“Because if it’s a contest between a thirty-five-pound boy and a three-ton SUV, the truck is going to win every time.”

“Why?”

“Because the laws of physics state that mass plus momentum equals . . . Just take my hand!”

And on it goes—right into adulthood!

“Why didn’t God heal my friend?”

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

“Why do I still have acne at 50?”

I’ve worked up way too much spiritual perspiration trying to answer why my second-grade Sunday school teacher committed suicide, why I was laid off from the perfect job in publishing—twice—or why bad things happen to such good people as you and me.

I have learned that while why is often a futile question, God is more than willing to answer other questions. But, like the popular game show, Jeopardy, the answers are in the form of a question.

What can I know?

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5-8).

So, while I’ve struggled with hundreds—probably thousands—of questions about God’s workings, I have grown in my knowledge of who he is. While agonizing about an estranged relationship, I burst into tears—for God. I had described to a friend my pain: “It feels like my heart has been cut out with a chainsaw, run over by a logging truck, and then fed through a wood chipper.” If I was feeling this excruciating pain for one broken relationship, how was God feeling about billions of heartaches? It was one of the few times I actually felt I understood God.

I can also find the answer to . . .

How can I grow?

I’ve always leaned into Romans 8:28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV).

But what is that “purpose”? The very next verse answers: “To be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). So do other verses:

“And the Lord—who is the Spirit——makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18b).

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1).

That’s our purpose! So ask, how can I grow more like Christ through this difficult time.

Who can I show?

Second Corinthians 1:3-6 has become one of my favorite passages in encouraging me while I’m going through terrible times:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer” (NLT).

The Greek word translated comfort isparaklesis. It is a calling near, summons for help; a prayer, a plea; exhortation, admonition, encouragement; consolation, comfort, solace, refreshment; or a persuasive speech, motivational talk, instruction. And it’s feminine case. No one comforts like a mother.

We offer our best comfort to those experiencing what we have personally gone through.

So, sorry, we can’t always answer the “why” questions, but we can answer these three.

Condensed from The Psalms of Asaph: Struggling with Unanswered Prayer, Unfulfilled Promises, and Unpunished Evil by James N. Watkins.

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What is Jesus Doing?

Sometimes we wonder what God must be up to. Life is getting weird and we seem to be floundering.  Ever feel that way?

If I keep my eyes open to what’s happening and keep trusting that God is doing what I cannot do for myself, the answer is usually simple.

What is Jesus doing? He’s helping me to grow in grace.

Be a blessing to someone today.

The Patience of Job

When I was growing up, occasionally I’d hear my mother refer to someone as having “the patience of Job.” I went to Sunday school and then upstairs for ‘big church’ with her, but we didn’t learn about Job in Sunday school.

Our flannel graph stories revolved around stories that didn’t include Satan, for the most part. You know, Joseph and his coat; Noah in the ark; Moses with the burning bush; that little guy Zacchaeus; and the loaves and fish miracle.

Now that I know Job’s story, I still enjoy reading it even after years of study. The more I learn about patience and how God works, the more I learn not to pray for it. A friend once shared in a group which I belonged to that she had prayed for patience.

“God didn’t send me patience in a package tied up with a bow,” she said. “I got pregnant.”

That’s a funny line from my friend. But I don’t believe God was playing a joke on her. What I do believe is that God uses our circumstances – the ones he causes and the ones he allows – to help us grow in character and in virtue (among other reasons).

Job grew from his experiences of loss and from the aftermath. He also learned some things. I don’t know if it was patience he learned. But I do know he grew in his knowledge of God.

“The theme of (the book of) Job is not ‘Why do the righteous suffer?’ The theme of Job is ‘Do the righteous believe that God is worth suffering for?’” ~ Warren Weirsbe

“They (Job’s three friends) plead a poor cause well, while Job pleads a good cause poorly.” ~ John Calvin

 “Be silent about great things; let them grow inside you.” ~ Baron Friedrich von Hugel

“The book of Job is not strictly a pessimistic book. It does not despair of the universe, despite all its sorrows. What it does despair of is the adequacy of any one of man’s theories, or all of these theories united, to furnish a solution of its sorrows.” ~ George Matheson

“I had a million questions to ask God: but when I met Him, they all fled my mind, and it didn’t seem to matter.” ~ Christopher Morley (Job 23:3-4)

While we read the book of Job, we get to see what happened behind the scene. But Job had no knowledge of it. We can be assured that God works for us in unknown ways and what may look like a setback becomes the setup for a blessing if we trust God and remain faithful.

Hoping and Coping With a Disability

We who have disabilities have certain limitations. We understand that and, with the passing of time, we accept them. But we also have abilities in addition to those limitations.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know I’m manic-depressive. Or, to use the more common name for it, I have bi-polar disorder. People who are bi-polar are limited in different ways; limited in as many ways as there are people with the diagnosis, I imagine. And so it is with anyone who lives with chronic illness or a disability.

I believe that, although people with chronic illnesses and disabilities have limitations, most of us aren’t constantly “suffering.” What we’re doing is learning how to manage it; we’re living our lives and sometimes even thriving. Sure, we struggle sometimes.  But we also have hope. We manage to put one foot in front of the other (so to speak) and do the necessary things to have a relatively good life.

Stress exacerbates any chronic illness, so we must avoid situations we’ve discovered we can’t handle as easily as someone without a disability. The symptoms we often have because of stress could be mental or emotional. They could manifest as physical symptoms.

Please don’t expect us to make important decisions when we are sick. If we’re experiencing a flare-up or an episode of the illness, we may in fact, need your patience as we make simple decisions to just get through the day.

If it seems we’re being irritable, you’re right. Some disabilities are noted for having an irritability aspect. For me, this is one of the first symptoms I display when I begin a manic phase–even before I begin the ‘hyper’ activity. I think I can speak for many when I say this is another aspect of having a disability we wouldn’t suffer if we didn’t have to. Most of us have a great attitude toward life. We don’t complain all the time and we’re generally nice people. But if we’re in pain or not able to think our way out of a paper bag, we can get grumpy. Hey, everyone gets grumpy occasionally; people with disabilities are no different.

Some of the ultimate limitations are being bed-ridden; inability to communicate our needs effectively; a temporary inability to handle being in public or with groups; not being able to work; and the necessity for some sort of support equipment (i.e., wheelchairs, oxygen, inhalers). However, many disabilities are what we refer to as “invisible.” Please don’t assume someone isn’t struggling just because they don’t need equipment.

As far as our hope is concerned:

For the most part, we rely on being educated about our specific disability. Knowledge is power and when we understand what’s going on in our bodies, we’re better equipped to respond to the symptoms. Then we go from being helpless to being able to manage, to a certain degree, what’s happening. We might not be able to rid ourselves of the physical (or mental) state, but we can usually control what we do. We can control our attitude toward our illness and the world around us.

Many of us practice some sort of faith. We rely on worship and prayer and are grateful when our friends and loved ones pray for us.

People with disabilities usually need to grieve their health. That process may be subtle and we may not even realize grieving is what we’re doing. Frankly, our irritability might be happening because we’re moving toward acceptance of our limitations. I mean, who wants to come out and say, “I simply can’t do some of the things I want to do”? But acceptance is one key to handling our problems.

I’ve learned that having a good day might mean leaving the house and moving my focus off myself. I can get the proverbial shot in the arm by simply having a brief conversation with a neighbor or calling someone on the phone to chat. I write letters and notes to friends and family members. Engaging in hobbies or learning a new skill helps too.

People with disabilities have much to offer. We might not be able to work even part time jobs. But we can volunteer, we can engage in our communities as advocates for something we’re passionate about, and we can offer a compassionate ear to someone who’s struggling with an illness because we’ve been there ourselves.

Over the years, I’ve discovered what Helen Keller said is also true for me.

“I thank God for my handicaps for through them I have found myself, my work and my God.”

Seeing my illnesses as something I can learn about and learn from helps me to keep a positive outlook even during a flare-up. I know God is with me. Even during a psychic ‘crash,’ I know that when I pray, God hears me. I don’t look like I’ve got it together–and I don’t. But I trust that God is in control.

Today, I’m believing less in “self-help” and relying on “God-help.” Ironically, in my most vulnerable states, I realized God can make me strong. In our world many of us think we must declare our independence. We believe our dreams are a result of hard work and self-sufficiency. While there’s nothing wrong with hard work, I prefer to declare dependence. On God.

Having a disability doesn’t make me less human. It doesn’t mean my limitations define me. Having a disability doesn’t mean I can’t make contributions to society. I’m a person living my life with purpose because God has promised me that I can.

 

Author’s note: I don’t claim to know everything about every chronic illness. I know some illnesses make an individual totally unable to make decisions for themselves and caregivers are needed to help them navigate life. This post about the abilities and limitations of people with disabilities is not all-inclusive or meant to be medical advice. The comments herein are taken from observations of my friends’ conditions, conversations with those individuals, and my own experience with several chronic illnesses. For those interested in such things, many support groups exist addressing the needs of a variety of illnesses.

 

A Peace That Transcends Everything

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7; emphasis mine).

Truthfully, the current patterns of the world are not worse than ever. Hard to believe, but it’s true.

We are in no more danger sitting at home in our living rooms than the ancients were. There has always been war. We have always seen unrest in families. Children have always, unfortunately, been neglected or abused. Economies crash. People betray us. Loved ones die.

Sin took its toll on Earth and we have never been the same. At one time, it got so bad that God flooded the earth and saved only one family.

Believe me, this is not meant to be a gloomy article or a prophecy about what God has in mind for us if we don’t obey. Today I merely point these things out because they are the reality we have always lived in.

However, for those who trust God in everything, we have hope. We also have peace because we know that, no matter how things look right now, keeping an eternal perspective presents the reality our Lord showed us.

Are you struggling today with unrest in your family? Is someone sick or have a chronic illness? Does your financial situation look sick as well? Is a loved one fighting to defend freedom in a foreign country and you wait while they come home? Are you grieving?

Whatever the situation, God will, if you ask, give you wisdom, strength to endure, and the knowledge you need to come through your struggle. You can be at peace when you understand how faithful he is.

God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Even though he sends the rains, he has compassion on those who suffer. Because God has shown me mercy and because I finally acknowledge that, I can have compassion on people who, a few years ago, I would have shown indignation. I might have even been angry with them without knowing their individual circumstances. It’s a humbling thing for God to show me how arrogant I can be.

Our struggles are temporary like everything else in the world. To keep this in mind also helps to endure and press on. Today, know that I’m praying for you. I don’t know your struggles, but God does, and he’s there for you when you call on him.

Heavenly Father, please help those reading this to know the peace which passes all understanding. Not a peace as the world gives through temporary things, but the peace which you give. Your love for us means you are faithful to provide, to still our hearts, to heal. Thank you for giving your Son, Jesus, who is our Savior and Friend. Amen.

 

Contentment as a Way of Life

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).

The apostle Paul is saying he learned contentment by trusting the Lord for everything. Knowing God is in control of every aspect of our lives is the “secret” he talks about. If God’s eye is on the sparrow, know that He watches over you.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26)

“Awesome”

When did it happen? When did the word “awesome” become a throw-away word?

Here’s what I mean by throw-away.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “awe” this way: an emotion variously combining dread, veneration (respect), and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime. For example, “stood in awe of the king” or “regard nature’s wonders with awe.”

But now, it’s an everyday occurrence for people to refer to the most common things as “awesome.”

That t-shirt with the clever saying on it. “Oh, man, that’s awesome.” A program on TV, the actor in that TV show, a video someone shared on Facebook or YouTube, or hey, just about anything can be “awesome.”

But are they really?

Do these things invoke the kind of inspiration felt when we’re in the presence of something or Someone deserving of the definition? God, His creation and any of His works are truly awesome. There are few things that compare.

A.W. Tozer, a theologian and author of many books about worship, living in the presence of God and knowing Him personally, says this:

“What comes into our minds when we think of God is the most important thing about us.”

What comes to your mind?

If our God is all-knowing, ever-present, sovereign, mighty, and constantly and impartially loving, the truest form of “awesomeness” is Him.

Hubble telescope view of the Horsehead Nebula

Hubble telescope view of the Horsehead Nebula

Whenever I go stargazing, I’m in awe. When I think of how a baby grows and is born into the world, I’m in awe. Seeing God work through people who are broken and imperfect puts me in awe. God’s revealed message to us through His Word is awesome. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross of Calvary brings me to a state of humility and awe.

I stand in awe of the King.

The other day I was listening to a song by one of my favorite Christian singer/songwriters, Rich Mullens. In “Awesome God,” he writes

“Our God is an awesome God. He reigns from heaven above with wisdom, power and love. Our God is an awesome God.”

That chorus is repeated over and over, a technique in songwriting I’m usually not fond of. But in this case, I don’t mind singing like that. Matter of fact, I was singing at the top of my lungs how awesome God is.

In my van. In front of God and everybody.

Because God and His creation are the truest form of the word “awesome

Jonah and a Big-Mouthed Fish

I happened to be reading a Highlights magazine in the waiting room at my doctor’s office last week. I don’t often read magazines for children, but this one caught my eye because of a cover blurb.

“Whoa! Whale Sharks,” it said.whale shark 3

The article in the February 2015 issue was fascinating. As I read it, I began to wonder if perhaps this huge fish wasn’t of the species God chose to swallow Jonah. The story of Jonah is often referred to as “Jonah and the whale,” but that’s not the animal name given in the Bible.

The King James Version says, “Now the Lord had prepared a a great fish to swallow up Jonah.”

The New International Version reads: “Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah.”

Yet another version, the New Revised Standard Version, says “But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah.” (Jonah 1:17, emphasis mine)

It’s obvious to the intelligent reader this is not a whale, but a fish. Whales are mammals. Fish are not. Not only that, but scripture says God caused this to happen.

Imagine how thrilled I was today to find a story in some online news about whale sharks. The basic information about these animals is agreed upon from research which scientists have done on them. But their migration patterns, among other aspects of their lives, are still a mystery.whale shark distribution

Most of us were captivated by the story of Jonah when we were children. It even becomes captivating when we’re adults because of the very idea of someone surviving inside a fish for three days and three nights.

Some have said this story can’t really be true.

God never answers all the questions we have about what happens in the Bible. Scripture includes many mysteries. Perhaps the mystery of the whale shark’s lifestyle will never be known in total. I believe it’s nice to have this gentle giant to fall back on as a possible answer to where Jonah spent those three days where he came to his senses and decided to obey the Lord.

Being Found

“Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country to go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” (Luke 15:4-6)

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

“Amazing grace–how sweet the sound–
That saved a wretch like Me!
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.”

Being found. It implies that we must have been lost. It implies we might have been lonely. We don’t know which way to go. Maybe we’re in darkness and we’re frightened.

Imagine being found by Someone who loves you deeply; without measure.

The truth is, God seeks us even as we may be seeking him. In fact, his Spirit seeks us out when we may not be actively looking for God. He knows we’re lonely, frightened. He’s aware that we don’t know where to turn next. Like sheep who’ve gone astray, we wander without purpose.

Once the Shepherd finds his sheep, he rejoices to have it in his arms, taking it home to green pastures.

What joy should fill our hearts knowing that he celebrates in having found us. What joy should fill our hearts knowing that we no longer need to be alone. We don’t have to be afraid; we know the darkness is gone. Forever.

Gratitude Breeds Contentment

Oy! My body aches. I had surgery six days ago and have two incisions in my back. Swelling in my feet and legs has stretched the skin so badly I can’t wiggle my toes without pain. Because of the pain associated with the incisions, sometimes I tense up. Then my shoulder and back muscles ache.

Not only that, but when I sit in my chair, I must take a deep breath and slowly lean back until I’m in the right position. Then, because I’m now monitoring my blood pressure every day, I must take some deep belly breaths and relax before I push the button on the cuff. It all hurts.

But–

The surgery I had has proven already to be a success. I know the incisions will eventually heal and won’t hurt anymore. I have medicine now to relieve the swelling in my lower limbs. I’m beginning to relax more when I move to avoid aggravating the site of the staples and stitches.

I can breathe. I’m able to cook for myself. I can climb the few stairs to get mail from the mailbox. I don’t need help getting dressed or bathing.

I’m grateful for those things that I might often take for granted.

During November I’ve been posting each day on Facebook and Twitter something for which I’m thankful. It would be easy to say I’m grateful for that parking space I got close to the grocery store yesterday. I could say I’m glad I have a good book to curl up with. The list of simple things like that could go on and on. I am grateful for those things.

However, I’m trying to post things I’m grateful for that are true promises of God or things which I know come from the truth of scripture. In fact, I’ve been including scripture in each post or tweet.

This time of year, people are thinking about Thanksgiving (yes, Christmas already too) and they’ll be more apt to look at a gratitude list. My practice is to include thankfulness in every day. At the top of my daily To Do list the words “Be Grateful” appear in a thick blue line written with a Sharpie.

Every good and perfect gift comes from God. (James 1:17) My breath, my healing, the ability to dress and cook for myself are only because God provides. I also know the pain and inconvenience I’ve experienced are allowed by him.

Knowing this, I’ve learned to be more content over the years. Of course, I don’t like pain and inconvenience. But nothing that happens to me is a surprise to him. He uses it to perfect me. How could I not be grateful, knowing this?

My prayer for you is a Thanksgiving Day spent in a way that you see all the goodness in your life. Praise God for it. Then look at the trials and inconveniences and praise God for those too. You know why. (James 1:2-4) Because through them you’ll realize you’re growing. One hopes to also be more content each day.

Be grateful for a good meal, friends and family if you celebrate with them, a warm home to live in and, most of all, for every promise God has made to you.