Clinging to Faith: A Close-Up View of Suffering

by Patti Richter

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. James 5:13 (ESV)

My friend sounded worried on the phone, and no wonder, her husband faced a federal indictment in connection to a previous employer’s wrongdoings.

The trouble had only begun for my former neighbor Luann and her family. Ominous clouds would darken their once bright lives—rich in Christian fellowship, community service, and every good thing. Over several years the tally of their losses could have filled a spreadsheet: bank accounts, investments, possessions, career, freedom, health, and, at times, peace.

Though she knew many losses could never be restored, Luann remained clinging to her undeniable right to Jesus’ promise, “In me you may have peace” (John 16:33; ESV). Yet sometimes her trust in God meant hanging by fingertips from the edge of an emotional upheaval.  

Luann’s phone call that day hit the resume button on our friendship, which had been diminished by distance after I’d moved away. Our talk-time increased as her circumstances heated up, especially after her husband, though innocent, was sent to prison. As Luann’s days grew desolate and her nights darker with fears, I became her speed-dial friend with a close-up view of suffering. During Luann’s lowest times, I reminded her that she’d had a better outlook the day before and would likely regain it again the next day.

A life crisis can produce faith questions even for strong believers. Luann struggled to understand why God would allow injustice, but God spoke to her through his Word. For instance, she marveled over the answer Jesus gave the disciples, who asked whose sin had caused a man to be born blind. Jesus said it was not about anyone’s sin, “but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:2, 3; ESV).

While we typically ask for prayer in our distress, James 5:13 urges the one who is suffering to pray. The Matthew Henry Commentary on this verse explains, “Afflictions naturally draw out complaints; and to whom should we complain but to God in prayer?”

I noticed Luann benefit most from praying when she felt too miserable to do it but made the choice to direct her lamentations upward to God. She admitted things to God that she hadn’t been able to express to others. Her confessions of anger and doubt exposed the root of whatever troubled her soul. I also witnessed Luann’s painful self-focus lessen as she began to pray for other hurting people.

I especially appreciated another view during my friend’s season of suffering: The body of Christ surrounded Luann with physical care and spiritual nurture. People showed up with a meal or to meet practical needs like appliance repair and computer support. They prayed for her family but also visited her husband in prison. They texted loving, encouraging messages and shared scriptures of comfort and hope. The church—so often the target of criticism—became more beautiful to me.

I further observed Luann’s growth in the knowledge of God as she desperately sought to understand his ways. Through faithful Bible study and devotions, she experienced the “living and active” power of God’s word (Hebrews 4:12), which soothed her anxious spirit as she chose to trust God rather than her emotions.

At some point in this journey of watching over my suffering friend, I realized her “good fight of faith” was also mine, and that no one who desires to follow Christ should place their hope in this life but, instead, “take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:12, 19; ESV).

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Patti Richter lives in north Georgia with her husband, Jim. She is a freelance journalist and long-time faith columnist at BlueRibbonNews.com with more than four hundred published articles.

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Patti is the co-author of the award-winning Signs of His Presence—Experiencing God’s Comfort in Times of Suffering. It is the story of Luann Mire, whose godly husband was blindsided by an indictment due to a former employer’s tax fraud. The resulting prison sentence and restitution took the once joyful couple into a long season of suffering as they fought judicial tyranny. Helpless to change her situation, Luann endured a painful examination of her life and found God faithful to His promises.

Join the conversation: How has God ministered to you during a season of suffering?

Assured

by Susie Crosby

adj: very confident; sure that something is certain or true

“I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”  John 16:33 MSG

We can’t be sure about much of anything right now. Many of the things we have always been able to count on are no longer certain. Plans are on hold, and we are realizing that even some of our most cherished traditions may never be the same.

Not only are we disappointed, we are weary, and we are worried. Even those of us who have placed our faith in Jesus­–we who know that life ends well for us–are struggling with the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

I catch myself occasionally drifting toward despair as my anxiety causes me to doubt the sovereignty of God. My heart needs to be assured and reassured. Often.

God, are you really in control?

Do you see this mess we’re in?

Do you hear us praying and crying out to you?

Are you ever going to answer?

It’s okay to ask him that. But then we have to be willing to devote some energy and time to looking and listening for reminders of his faithfulness.

We will find them in unique places. Maybe in a precious photo, a nature walk, a favorite song, or a conversation with a friend. For me, some answers were discovered in 20 years of prayer journals piled in a box on my bedroom floor.

As I poured through page after page, journal after journal, I started making a list. There were so many prayers, long forgotten, that God had been faithful to answer. Prayers for big things, and small things, for people, and for material things. There were times when I had asked him to heal someone I loved, to soften hearts, to help us figure out finances, to lead us to a church, to guide us in tough decisions, and to draw our family closer to him.

There were surprises in these journals, too. I found answers to prayers I hadn’t even voiced. I realized as I flipped through the pages that several of the gifts God had given me were things that he knew I needed, but I didn’t know I did.  Often it was a person he brought into my life to show me more of his love for me. These unspoken prayers were answered simply because of his goodness and his commitment to take care of his children.

There were also answers that looked very different than what I thought they should look like. I still don’t understand God’s plan in some of these, but I do know that someday he will show me how he has worked everything together for his good and his glory.

Can we trust him? Can we believe what Jesus said as he went to be with our Father in Heaven? These last words he spoke to us were meant for us to hold onto during times like these. He knows what is happening in our country, in our workplaces, in our homes, and in our hearts. And here he reminds us that we can be unshakable and deeply at peace; because he has conquered it all.

As the year winds down to its end, look and listen to the God who loves you more than you can comprehend. Let him remind you that he has never once ignored your prayers or left you alone. You can be assured that greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.

This article was brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

susie crosby

About the author: Susie is a grateful mom of two (almost) grown boys who currently live and go to school in Honolulu, Hawaii. She and her husband live in a seaside town in the Puget Sound region called Mukilteo. They love to hike and kayak, they are huge Seattle sports fans, and they mostly love hanging out at home with their little dog Koko. Susie teaches P.E., Art, Technology, and Music at an all-kindergarten school which keeps her busy full time. Her passion and joy is sharing encouraging words with the people she loves. She is an active blogger and speaker, and she is the author of Just One Word: 90 Devotions to Invite Jesus In. She is always on the lookout for fun coffee shops, inspiring books, remote beaches, and farmers’ markets. Connect with Susie at www.susiecrosby.com.

Join the conversation: Do you have trouble in trusting God?

Choosing Peace Over Perfection

by Beth Vogt @BethVogt

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NLT

I can’t remember the last time I had a perfect day.

Oh, I daydream about perfect days. Catch glimpses of other people’s picture-perfect times on social media. Their just completed kitchen remodels or their “look what I accomplished today!” photo ops. The beach sunrises and sunsets, bare feet by the pool days. My dreams aren’t about elaborate escapes to Tahiti – although there are times those salt-breezy vacations sound, well, perfect.

Most times, perfection would be all about having time to clean my house. No clutter on my kitchen countertops. No dirty laundry in my hampers. No search and destroy missions to remove mystery foods from my fridge. No smudges on my mirrors or dog hair lurking under my couches. Who am I kidding? No dog hair on my couches.

And sometimes all I want is uninterrupted time. No disruptions. No surprises. Enough quiet for creativity to flourish so I could work on my novel. But the last time I managed to squeeze in even a partial day of calmness, circumstances went awry, requiring that my 100-year-old mother-in-law be transferred from assisted living to a rehab facility. Immediately.

The reality is we’re not promised perfect days. This year has certainly proven that, hasn’t it? We all would like one giant do-over on 2020. But these less-than-perfect days remind me that Jesus was honest enough to tell us that life is going to be hard enough to make us sad.

Jesus was having a long conversation with his disciples about abiding with him and how he was going to leave them, but then Spirit would come and that would be better … and then he said he was telling them all these things so they would have peace (John 16). If you’re like me, you want to skip over the rest of verse. But there’s no glossing over words like “trials” and “sorrows.”

The challenge is in choosing how we react when we want one thing – perfection – but we end up with the other – challenges and heartaches. That’s when we need to notice how Jesus bracketed his honesty about how hard life would be for us. He book-ended his straight talk about tough times with two promises:

  • That he would give us peace
  • That he has overcome the world

Jesus was honest enough to tell us we’d have trials, not easy circumstances. But we are promised his peace. And in the midst of our complicated days, the peace of God, which exceeds anything we can understand (Philippians 4:17 NLT), is what strengthens and steadies us, enabling us to navigate the “what just happened?” moments that upend our lives. Yes, today may be challenging, but God is our “more than this” – and he will see us through whatever we are facing.

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About the author: Beth K. Vogt believes God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “Never.” Having authored nine contemporary romance novels and novellas, The Best We’ve Been, the final book in Beth’s Thatcher Sisters Series with Tyndale House Publishers, released May 2020. Other books in the women’s fiction series include Things I Never Told You, which won the 2019 AWSA Award for Contemporary Novel of the

Year, and Moments We Forget. Beth is a 2016 Christy Award winner, a 2016 ACFW Carol Award winner, and a 2015 RITA® finalist. An established magazine writer and former editor of the leadership magazine for MOPS International, Beth blogs for Learn How to Write a Novel and The Write Conversation. She enjoys speaking to writers groups and mentoring other writers. Visit Beth at bethvogt.com.

Join the conversation: How have you found peace in the interruptions?

Preparing the Soil of Your Heart

by Debb Hackett @Debb_Hackett

In the fall, I check the strength my biceps for the hours I know I will spend leaf blowing and bagging. This isn’t anything I ever did when I lived in England, but despite the hard work, it remains a joy because it’s still a multicolored novelty. At least until the next good wind gives me another yard-full. Then I might frown for a moment.

Fall isn’t traditionally a time we think about planting seeds; it’s when we watch the foliage lighting up the horizon before falling away. The trees then grow dormant over the winter, only to burst to life again in a blaze of spring glory. But even when the plants are “sleeping” they’re preparing for spring.

The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”  Matthew 13:23, NIV

The Parable of the Sower was a metaphor about different responses to the Word of God. Even when we have heard and responded, there can be challenges that can draw us away from the Lord: distractions that can pull our eyes from the life-giving message of the cross to focus elsewhere.

Both seeds grew. As I pondered the difference between the thorny ground and the good soil, I was struck by how slim the difference was between the two types. It’s the same with my heart. How often am I walking closely with the Lord, but then begin to fixate on my circumstances?

Jesus, in His great love and mercy knew that we’d face challenges. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV). He is greater than anything we can encounter here on earth. In order to stay healthy, we need to aim our face toward the Son, giver of life and hope.

We follow His teaching, asking Him to guide our steps. We try to live faithful lives that bear fruit. But in order to grow anything, the soil needs tending. So how do we prepare the garden of our hearts to foster future growth?

I’m checking for weeds, things that distract me from the Gospel, and I’m fertilizing the soil, putting in the nutrients that will feed new growth. I’m spending time reading the Word, studying it, and applying it to my life. I’m worshiping in my car, my kitchen and of course — in the shower, I am belting praise out unless the house is sleeping. Finally, I’m fellowshiping with other believers who can encourage me as I go.

This fall as the leaves tumble, let them be a reminder to take the time to tend our hearts to keep them hospitable to future new growth. It’s the way to keep us from growing hard towards the God who loves us passionately. Then we will be ready for whatever lies ahead, for a new season of challenge and abundant life.

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. Psalm 119:105, NIV

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Deb HackettAbout the author: Writer, broadcaster, and speaker Debb Hackett  has been a radio journalist for more than twenty years. Married to a test pilot, Debb writes for military wives and lives just outside Washington D.C. with her husband and children. She’s having lots of fun working on an inspirational contemporary romance series. When she’s not writing, Debb can be found leading worship, playing bass, or skiing. Also, if you can swing by her house while she’s making scones, that would be a win. She blogs at: http://debbhackett.com

Join the conversation: How do you keep your heart soft towards God?

God’s Eraser

by Katy Kauffman @KatyKauffman28

I get a thrill just walking past the windows of Pottery Barn. The wood finishes, the colorful dishes, the silk flowers—they call to me. On one of my expeditions into the store, I found a white eraser about the size of my palm, and a word was printed on it—DELETE. I bought the eraser and set it on my desk. Even though I hardly use it, it reminds me that God can erase the pain of hurtful actions. Some are recent, some may have stained our hearts for years.

Each child’s heart is like a journal. The adults, teachers, and peers in a child’s life write on it. Kind words, playful words, or hurtful ones. Their actions jot down notes about the child’s worth and identity. Which of these messages was written on your heart as you were growing up?

  • You’re valuable or you won’t amount to anything.
  • You’re needed or I don’t want you around.
  • You can do great things with God’s help or you’re a failure before you start.

If we have negative words and actions written on the journals of our hearts, we may think that there’s no reversing it. No eraser can eliminate the stain. But God can.

When life has written worthless, forgotten, or shameful on our hearts, God replaces it with loved and cherished. When we allow Him to write words of truth on our souls and we accept that truth for ourselves, He calls us free.

Free. Four little letters that hold a world of hope and restoration. Free from muck, pain, and regret. Free from the tyranny of people’s opinions and society’s demands. In Christ, we are free to be loved and to love, to make a difference, and to show someone else they are valuable, too.

This is what God writes on our hearts:

“You are Mine” (Isaiah 43:2 NKJV).

“I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 44:22 NJKV).

“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you” (John 15:9 NKJV).

“In Me you may have peace” (John 16:33 NKJV).

God lessens the pain of hurtful memories by building new memories with us—time spent studying His Word and praying, time spent with loved ones, helping others who are in need, and so on. God’s pen holds ink that can never be erased, not by time or people or trials. His promises are certain, and He keeps each one.

You will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.   Isaiah 62:2b NIV

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headshot_katykauffmanAbout the author: Katy Kauffman is a Bible study author and teacher, an editor of Refresh Bible Study Magazine, and a co-founder of Lighthouse Bible Studies. Her writing tends to focus on winning life’s spiritual battles, and she loves connecting with writers and creating compilations such as Breaking the Chains: Strategies for Overcoming Spiritual Bondage, a 2018 Selah Awards finalist, and Heart Renovation: A Construction Guide to Godly Character, a 2019 Selah finalist. Katy makes her home in a cozy suburb of Atlanta, Georgia.

Her latest book, Heart Renovation: A Construction Guide to Godly Character explores the questions: How does God make our character more like Christ’s? What is His part, and what is ours? This Bible study compilation is a construction guide to building godly character and overcoming the hidden problems that sabotage us. It explores how God works in our lives and gives us wisdom to handle real-life issues.  

Join the conversation: What Scripture verse do you want written on your soul? What words bring you hope and peace? Please share!

All is Well

by Julie Zine Coleman @JulieZColeman

The world can be a frightening place for a child. My husband and I both remember the days of atomic bomb drills at school, cowering under desks with hands over our heads. (I’m still not sure how effective that would have been in the event of an actual nuclear attack.) We lecture our children on the dangers of strangers. We brief them on escape plans for our homes should fire break out. Even the environment is a threat, as children are being taught climate catastrophe is just around the corner. Despite this all being preparation for what may never happen, it can give a child the impression that things are spinning out of control.

Sometimes reading biblical prophecy can be just as scary. There is much in the future still to be played out, according to Scripture. And much of that future reads more like an R-rated movie than a happily-ever-after fairy tale. The judgment of God will come someday on a world which has turned its back on its Creator.

Why does God spend so much time warning about His coming judgment? Why all the chapters and chapters about things we may never experience in our lifetimes?

Foremost, of course, God is concerned for our salvation. He does not want any to perish (1 Peter 3:9). Knowing what eventually lies ahead for this world is excellent motivation for us to reach out to Him.

There is a second purpose served by prophecy. When we read the plans of God, we are left with a lasting conviction: God controls the destiny of the world. Everything is going according to plan (and it all works out in the end). We also see so much prophecy already fulfilled by the first coming of Jesus Christ. What is still in our future will be just as painstakingly orchestrated. We can live our lives in hope, because we live for a powerful God who holds the future in His hands.

So, on days when I am discouraged, hopeless, or wondering if the news could get any worse, I count on God’s promise: “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage: I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NASB).

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a story of a ship and its occupants moving perilously close to the rocks in a violent storm. The ship’s passengers huddled on the deck below, terrified that their lives were about to end. One brave man volunteered to go above deck to seek out the captain and ascertain the situation. With great difficulty, he made his way to the pilot house. There he found the captain, chained to his post, hands confidently on the wheel. Seeing the passenger’s terror, the captain gave him a reassuring smile.

Upon his return below, the man gave his fellow passengers his hopeful news. “All is well. All is well. I saw the pilot’s face and he smiled.”

I had a similar experience on a bumpy flight to Hartford. I was seated in the same row as a uniformed pilot who had caught our flight to get to his next assignment. While turbulence usually makes me nervous, this time I watched him. If he suddenly hunched over into a crash position, I would know it was time to panic. However, while he calmly sipped his coffee and read his magazine, even while the plane bumped along, I knew all was well.

I believe that this is the reason we are allowed to glimpse the future of the world in prophecy. In the midst of seeming uncertainty and conflict, we as people of God can rest secure in the knowledge that He has it all in hand. Nothing happens that surprises God. Beyond the conflict and agony of this life, we have the hope of certain victory in Christ.

The story is already written. All is well.

The Lord of hosts has sworn saying, “Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand.”  Isaiah 14:24 NASB

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Julie-Coleman-headshot-295x300About the authorJulie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Her award-winning book, Unexpected Love: God’s Heart Revealed through Jesus’ Conversations with Womenwas published in 2013 by Thomas Nelson. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Join the conversation: How has God revealed His faithfulness to you?

 

The Truth About Balance

by Edie Melson

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (ESV)

I didn’t have to experience the stress of our Marine Corps son’s deployment to know it was going to be struggle. But it did take that experience for me to understand that finding balance during didn’t always look and feel like I expected.

I thought balance was synonymous with moderation. To have balance meant I had to control how I lived my life. If I kept a tight rein on my environment, my diet and my exercise, I believed I’d be insulted from the extremes of life.

But that deployment taught me I was not in control.

It forced me to re-evaluate my entire concept of balance. I didn’t find that much-prized balance until I finally realized I was looking in all the wrong places.

Balance—I discovered—wasn’t an exterior thing, it was an interior thing.

Times of chaos will come, exploding into our lives with ferocity. When this happens, it doesn’t matter how carefully we’ve orchestrated our schedules, environment, or diet, life crumbles. We know this is true by experience, but we also see it in Jesus’ life.

As we delve into the New Testament, we see how Jesus experienced demanding crowds who pushed in, insisting on attention. We watch as he dealt with disappointment when His followers fell short. We even see times when He was faced with the unexpected (in a human sense) death of Lazarus.

But through all this, we also see a perfect example of a balanced life. And it had nothing to do with what was going on around Him, much less diet, exercise, or environment. It had everything to do with allowing God to direct His steps.

So whether you’re facing a loved one’s deployment or something else, I encourage you with the certainty that balance is possible. When we look first to God, we can always find the balance, and the peace that comes with it.

Edie-MelsonAbout the author: Find your voice, live your story…is the foundation of Edie Melson’s message, whether she’s addressing parents, military families, readers of fiction or writers. As an author, blogger, and speaker, she’s encouraged and challenged audiences across the country and around the world. Her latest book, While My Child is Away; Prayers for While Were Apart is available at local retailers and online. Connect with her further at www.EdieMelson.com and on Facebook and Twitter.

Free Book Contest!  Arise Daily will use a random number generator to pick a winner from today’s comments. To enter our contest for Edie’s book, While My Child is Away,  please comment below.  By posting in our comments, you are giving us permission to share your name if you win!  If you have an outside the US mailing address, your prize could be substituted with an e-book of our choice.

Join the conversation: Where do you struggle with balance in your life?