A Christian Approach to Waiting (Part 2)

This week’s blog builds on last week’s post about the benefits and challenges of waiting.

Patience is an attribute of God. When we are patient, we are like Him. Thus waiting is good because it makes us more like God.

When you wait, at times it seems that nothing is happening. When you feel like that, remind yourself that you are always going somewhere in God’s plan. God is constantly moving you according to His purpose for your life. Your job is to be patient and wait for Him to accomplish it His way and His time. Even when your life is standing still, as long as you cling to God you are moving forward on the path of God.

Obedience to God is key. If you continue to obey God and take the steps you know are right, you will end up in God’s perfect place for you. The process might take a long time, so it’s important to not get discouraged. You can encourage yourself through prayer and reminding yourself of the promises in God’s Word.

Prayer is also crucial. Pray that God will wash away all fear, anxiety, doubt, impatience, lack of trust and discouragement. Ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit, with His love, joy, peace, strength, wisdom and hope.

Waiting also increases your wisdom and improves your knowledge of God. Waiting helps you grow in the understanding of God’s ways, if you will not give in to fear, impatience or discouragement because your timetable does not coincide with God’s.

Develop contentment during your times of waiting. God has shown you that He wants you to tread the path of patience and waiting, so be content with this season of your life and don’t yearn for things to move faster.

Cultivate hope. Though your waiting times might be in darkness, have hope that the sun will come up again and at the end of the waiting period, you will bask in His light. Psalm 30:5 tells us –

For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favour lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning.

You can encourage yourself by coming to the realization that waiting is good for building and increasing faith. In Hebrews 11:6, it says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” When you are in a season of waiting, you need to have the faith that God will reward your waiting with something good. You’ll have to believe that you’ll receive that good thing before it happens. You’ve heard the expression – “I’ll believe it when I see it”. For Christians, we have to believe before we can see it – that’s faith. We walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

Waiting is also good because it helps build endurance. God is training us like spiritual athletes, pushing us into longer periods of waiting to build our stamina and increase our endurance. Endurance is something that can only be developed through the long passing of time, thus God at times calls us to a season of waiting.

Waiting helps us develop a trust, reliance and dependence on God. You have to wait for Him to work for you rather than relying on your own efforts and strength. Instead of you making things happen, you surrender the situation to God who does all the work.

Waiting can be tough because you have to give up control, something which many people struggle with. It’s especially difficult when there’s nothing you can do to change the situation. In this case, all you can do is relax, be still, be at rest, release and surrender things to God, trust and depend on Him. Do not get troubled, anxious or disturbed, but hide under His strong and comforting wings.

Waiting requires you to trust God’s timing. Our timing is often different from God’s timing. If we had our way, we would want everything to happen immediately. Especially in the 21st century, we are used to a fast-paced life, we expect everything to happen quickly, even instantly – so when God’s timing slows us down, we can get agitated and frustrated.

Trusting God’s timing is a test of obedience. Will you submit to His timetable or insist on your own timetable? A great deal of growing in your relationship with God is surrender and submission – and waiting is about surrendering your time to God, submitting the “when” to the Lord of Time and trusting that He knows the best time for you to receive your promise.

God promises us many great things – but usually there might be a time lag between when the promise is issued and when the promise is fulfilled. Abraham had to wait twenty years before He saw the promise of his son Isaac being born. Joseph was a teenager when God gave him his dream of greatness and it was also nearly another twenty years – and through hard times of being a slave and a prisoner – before Joseph saw his dreams fulfilled when He became promoted to the prime minister of Egypt. A lot of times God promises us great things – things far beyond what we can hope or imagine – but the price of receiving that dream is waiting – we have to continue to trust and not give up even when everything tells us that the promise we are waiting for won’t happen.

Waiting is a process of not giving up. Waiting is the promise of clinging to God’s promise fervently, zealously, not allowing negative circumstances make you discouraged or lose hope.

Thus waiting requires great strength. Accepted correctly, waiting doesn’t make you passive, it makes you active as you build the muscles of perseverance, patience, endurance, hope, faith – all these things will strengthen your character and make you a mighty believer of God.

When you have to wait and your circumstances start becoming negative, there is the temptation to panic and take things into your own hands. But this only leads to more problems. For example, Abraham had problems waiting for Sarah to conceive Isaac, so he had a child with Sarah’s maid Hagar and the child Ishmael only brought them grief. The tragedy happened all because Abraham lacked the patience to wait for God’s promise to be fulfilled.

So when you’re waiting, be patient and look forward to God’s deliverance instead of taking things into your own hands. You’ll find that your patience will be well rewarded when you wait on God.

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The Christian approach to waiting

Recently, I’ve been dealing with the challenge of waiting.

I’ve been searching for a full time job for the past five months and waiting for God to open the door for a good job.

The challenges of waiting are many and the temptations that can afflict me are numerous. There is fear and anxiety – wondering what will happen if I won’t be able to get a job. There is a lack of trust that God will provide for me. There is discouragement as I send off application after application and go for interview after interview without any success. There is impatience as to why it is taking so long for me to land a job. There is the temptation to grumble and complain about negative circumstances.

However, what has been great for me and which I’m very grateful for is that God has given me His peace and patience so far, so I’ve been protected so far against negative thinking. That doesn’t mean I’m calm and happy all the time or that I never have any doubts, but in general, most of the time, God’s grace is with me, guarding my mind against negativity, guiding me with His wisdom and comforting me with His love. So as the temptations to be negative come to assault me, as I resist the negativity, it has been a time of growth as my faith, like a muscle, meets resistance, and this test of my faith helps increase my trust and reliance on God. I’m learning to rely on God to provide a good job for me instead of relying on my own skills and work experience, so this period of waiting has been and will be a good opportunity to learn the joy and humility of depending, relying and trusting in God.

The most effective way to combat negative thoughts I find is to saturate my mind with the Word of God. I’ve come up with a list of Bible verses that I soak my mind with whenever I feel the Enemy is attacking me with negative thoughts. I cling to God’s promises as I wait for His deliverance and salvation.

One Bible verse that encourages me is Psalm 37:7 – “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him”.

When we are placed in a situation where God is calling us to wait, we should do it in a spirit of stillness. If your circumstances are comfortable, being still is something relatively easy to do, but if your circumstances are negative, then being still can be very difficult. This is what the disciples faced when their boat was caught in a storm and Jesus was sleeping in the boat. The disciples were terrified and disturbed by the storm and amazed that Jesus was just sleeping and not doing anything to rescue them. But Jesus was sleeping not because He didn’t care about them, but because He knew that His power was protecting them from the storm. In the storm, all the disciples had to do was to be still and rest in God’s peace. When the disciples couldn’t stand it anymore and woke Jesus up, our Lord miraculously calmed the storm. He then rebuked them for not having the faith to wait for the storm to pass. This incident in the gospel teaches us that in the storms of life, sometimes all we have to do is to rest and be still in God’s peace, knowing that His power protects us from all harm and He will rescue and deliver us to a safe place and green pastures.

Here are some of the verses that have encouraged me in my waiting period:

Isaiah 40:31

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Psalm 130:5-6

I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.

My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning.

Lamentations 3:25-26

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

Psalm 27:14

Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

One good tip for coping with the difficulty of waiting is to see it not just as waiting, but as waiting on the Lord. It’s much easier to think about waiting on God than it is to be patient with your circumstances. When you’re waiting on the Lord, you’re not just waiting for time to pass, but it’s a peaceful, restful, joyful anticipation of how God will reward you when the waiting period is over.

One thing that has been encouraging during my waiting period for a good job is that I’ve realized that waiting is part of God’s will for me at the moment. God has a good plan for my life and during this phase of my life, it is His will for me to wait and this season of my life is the season of waiting. Knowing that it is God’s will for me to wait brings comfort and peace because I know that as I wait patiently, I’m obeying God and pleasing Him. I know that this time of waiting is the best thing for me at this stage of my life, so I entrust myself into the loving hands of God who guides me along the perfect path for me. By realizing that waiting is God’s will for me, I also have the confidence that at the end of the waiting period, I’ll receive my reward – salvation, deliverance, joy.

When you wait, it is a process where you do nothing, but God is doing everything. It is a process of utter dependence on God. The good news is God is not passive, but is working His mighty power to create a marvellous future for you. In my case, I believe that what God is doing for me now is plenty, including changing the economy so a suitable job might open up to me, moving the right people to the right places, inspiring the hiring manager to look on my application favourable, granting me favour with people in authority, providing the budget to hire me, creating the vacancy and need for my skills and experience. I believe that God is doing so many things that I cannot see – but just because it’s invisible to me doesn’t mean it’s not happening. God is teaching me to live by faith, not by sight. I just have to remember that though I might not be doing anything, God is doing something. And God is not just doing something, He is moving mightily on my behalf, working things out with his amazing power. God is the ruler of the universe, working on things behind the scenes, in His infinite wisdom and power.

God reveals His purpose about why sometimes He wants us to wait in James 1:2-4 (NIV) –

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

The King James Version translates the word “perseverance” as “patience”. Both interpretations are worth pondering. When we are called to wait by God, that helps us develop the quality of patience and perseverance. In fact, patience can only be developed during when you have to wait, thus waiting becomes an essential part of our spiritual growth. James tells us that patience will help us become mature and complete, not lacking anything. Thus we can rejoice during times of waiting, knowing that the time of waiting is creating in us patience, perseverance and endurance that is perfecting our character.

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Prosperity gospel – does God want us to be rich or poor?

One of the most controversial topics in Christianity today is the prosperity gospel.

Ministers who preach the prosperity gospel tell their congregations that God wants them to be rich and often flaunt their wealth in terms of private jets and lavish mansions. Opponents of the prosperity gospel condemn such prosperity ministers, accusing them of being materialistic and greedy.

What does the Bible teach about prosperity?

The Bible tells us that wealth is a blessing from God. In Deuteronomy 28, it is written that

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:

You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.

The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.

Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.

The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.

The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground—in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.

The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.

In Psalm 35:27, the Bible says that God takes “delight in the prosperity of His servant.”

God is the source of wealth and it is God who gives the power to get wealth. This can be seen in 1 Chronicles 29:12 – Wealth and honour come from you (God)” and Deuteronomy 8:18 – “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”

In the Bible, most of the time, poverty is seen as a negative state, and it is the duty of the Christian to help the poor financially. However, there are some verses that support the fact that some righteous Christians will encounter poverty and their impoverished state leads to spiritual growth as poverty makes a person more dependent on God for their survival. Jesus calls the poor in spirit “blessed” in the Beatitudes.

In Phillipians 4:11-13, Paul writes about his financial situation:

 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.

Paul regularly enjoyed plenty and poverty, as a Christian he both prospered and was poor. The way he coped with his differing states was to develop a spirit of contentment and faith that he could achieve anything through Christ’s strength.

The Bible doesn’t promise Christians that they will be rich, but the Word does promise that even when Christians are poor, they will be provided for abundantly. Speaking to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 9:8, Paul writes

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

You may be poor, but you can trust that God will meet your needs with abundance. Your provision doesn’t need to come just from personal wealth. There are many testimonies from Christians who are in dire straits but received generous donations or had their debt supernaturally cancelled. Jesus didn’t have much money but He was always well taken care of. When he had to feed a crowd of 5000, he only had five loaves and two fishes, but He managed to multiply the food so everyone was fully fed and he even had baskets of food leftover. What a wonderful illustration of how God provides for the poor abundantly!

So it can be seen that God doesn’t want you to be poor or rich, but wants to meet your needs abundantly.

John Wesley exhorted his audiences to “earn all they can, save all they can and give away all they can.”

The accumulation of wealth is not for our own personal enjoyment, but so that we can give to the less fortunate and achieve equality in wealth levels among Christians. As it says in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 – [

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

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Overcome challenges with the favour of God

Did you know that as a Christian, you have the favour of God?

In Psalm 5:12 it is written,

For surely, O Lord, you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favour as with a shield.

When you have the favour of God, you will enjoy God’s blessings. You can expect good things to happen to you. God’s favour surrounds you like a shield, protecting you from harm.

However, even though you have God’s favour, that doesn’t mean that you won’t have any problems.

A great example of a godly man who had the favour of God is Joseph.

We can see God’s favour in the life of Joseph starting from a young age, when he was his father’s favourite son. Jacob loved Joseph more than his brothers and gave him a beautiful coat as a token of his affection. Yet this favour only stirred up trouble for Joseph, as it made his brothers jealous of Joseph. His brothers became so envious of Joseph that they plotted to kill him. In the end, they faked his death and sold him to a passing band of slave traders.

The slave traders brought Joseph to Egypt, where he became a servant in the household of Potiphar, the captain of the guards. There, God’s favour was with Joseph.

As it says in Genesis 39:2-6 –

The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favour in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.

So God’s favour enabled Joseph to prosper even in the difficult situation of being a slave. However, though Joseph prospered under Potiphar, his problems didn’t end there. Potiphar’s wife saw that Joseph was a strong, handsome young man and tried to seduce him. When Joseph rebuffed her advances, she accused him of trying to rape her. Potiphar was furious when he heard his wife’s accusations and sent Joseph to prison.

Can you imagine how Joseph must have felt? He was doing well, flourishing under God and Potiphar by living a righteous life. And now because He feared God and refused to commit adultery with Potiphar’s wife, he was thrown into a dark dungeon. Most people would have become angry with God and sunk into despair. But not Joseph. Joseph kept his faith in God, knowing that God still had a way to bless him even in his difficult circumstance. And that was exactly what happened. Even in the bleak environment of the prison, Joseph prospered.

In Genesis 39:20-23, we are told that

But while Joseph was there in the prison,  the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favour in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

It was in prison that Joseph met the chief cupbearer and correctly interpreted his dream. When the chief cupbearer was restored to his position in Pharoah’s palace, he told Pharoah about Joseph. Pharoah needed someone to interpret his dreams and he sent for Joseph. When Joseph interpreted Pharoah’s dream for him, Pharoah was so impressed with Joseph’s wisdom that he made Joseph second-in-command of Egypt.

Now that’s the favour of God!

So you can see in the life of Joseph, when you have the favour of God, it doesn’t mean that everything will go smoothly in your life and you won’t have any problems. No, Joseph faced great challenges and you will, like him, can expect difficulties to come into your life.

However, take heart. If you rely on God’s favour, his love will help you overcome your challenges.

God promises to deliver us from our trials. As it says in Psalm 34:19 –

Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but God delivers them out of them all.

When you have the favour of God, it doesn’t mean that everything will always go your way and your whole life will be a bed of roses. You’ll still face difficulties, sometimes even problems that knock the wind out of your sails. When that happens, you may feel that you have lost God’s favour. Fight that thought! Even though something bad has happened, continue to believe that you have God’s favour and that this favour will help you overcome your problems. When you feel that God’s favour has left you is when you have to make extra effort to believe in God’s favour. Don’t be discouraged. Put a smile on your face and put your faith in God – his favour will deliver you.

In Isaiah 54:17, God promises us that “no weapon formed against you shall prosper.” We may face weapons from our enemies but in the end, through God’s favour, we will defeat these weapons. Our enemies’ downfall and our victory is guaranteed!

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Living for eternity

About two weeks ago, I couldn’t sleep so spent the time lying in bed listening to Christian songs. A lot of times when I have insomnia, I get messages from God and insights into Christianity. In fact, quite a lot of the material for this blog comes from times when I’m lying in bed, unable to sleep.

During one recent night of insomnia, a thought from God suddenly popped into my head. God said to me – “You don’t live for eternity”. Immediately, I realised it was true. I am very focused on my earthly life in the present moment. My focus is usually on how I can best enjoy myself in the present moment, and the bad thing about this is that sometimes I thus neglect future consequences of present actions. I was convicted by God telling me that I don’t live for eternity. So I started meditating on this thought – how would my life be different if I was living for eternity? How would my life be different if I really believed that I was going to spend eternity in heaven and I lived my life according to a desire to earn heavenly rewards instead of earthly ones?

Immediately, I was convicted that I don’t give enough. This verse popped into my head –

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

I got laid off in December 2012 and for the past three months I haven’t had an income. So I stopped giving to church and charities. This verse from Matthew convicted me that I should start giving again, that I shouldn’t spend money just on earthly needs and pleasures, but to continue to give to the church and the poor, so as to store treasures for myself in heaven. I realized that what I buy for myself only gives me temporary satisfaction in this life, but what I give to others brings me rewards in heaven for eternity.

I also realized how important it is to live for eternity. One thing I always feel is about how quickly time passes. I’m turning 40 next year and I can’t believe how quickly those years have passed, especially the last 20 years. It seems only last year since I graduated from college, life seems to have zipped by in a flash. This brought home to me the danger of living for this world. Life is fleeting and will be over before you know it. James 4:14 says – “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

If you’re only living for this life, it’s a very fast and short term pleasure. But if you live for eternity, it’s a long term investment that will last forever.

Living for eternity will also change your perspective on suffering. In 2 Corinthians 4:17, it says – “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” When you believe this truth, it will transform your attitude towards suffering. Instead of resisting suffering, getting frustrated or depressed about your troubles, you rejoice in the fact that your trials are bringing you eternal glory.

James 1:12 says – “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”

Our troubles will bring us a heavenly crown. Knowing this truth will empower us to rejoice in suffering.

In Hebrews 12:2, the writer tells us that Jesus – “for the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

We should follow Christ’s example and bear our crosses in life patiently and fix our eyes on our victory in heaven.

One thing which God convicted me of was my habit of living life for earthly, temporary pleasures. I struggle with eating a healthy diet and often indulge in fatty, sweet foods. As a result, I am overweight. God convicted me that I should not indulge in temporary pleasures at the expense of long term consequences, to not indulge in the flesh’s unhealthy cravings.

Colossians 3:2 tells us to “set your on things above, not on earthly things.”

I also realized that I shouldn’t focus just on earthly success. I’ve been working on a Christian book and one thing which I’ve focused on is how to make the book a bestseller. But God was telling me to work on the book just as a means to glorify Him. Even if the book sold only 1 copy, I shouldn’t be discouraged because I would still have my reward in heaven for working on the book, since God had called me to work on the book and it was part of His will for me.

Matthew 19:30 tells us that in heaven, “many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” Maybe you feel you are of low status or have a job that’s mundane and unglamorous. I’d encourage you to work at your job with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not for earthly rewards. God sees your dedication to Him and you’ll receive high praise from Him when you go to heaven.

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God will promote you

When you put your faith in God and live a life that is obedient to Him, you will experience the favour of God. This favour may mean that you’re chosen for promotion even when you are least likely to be selected.

This principle can be seen at work when God planned to choose a new king for Israel. In 1 Samuel, we are told that God was angry with Saul and planned to replace him with a different ruler. God sent his prophet Samuel to the family of Jesse, as God told Samuel that the new king would be one of Jesse’s sons. When Samuel saw Eliab, he was impressed with how Eliab looked and wanted to anoint him as king. But God had other plans. In 1 Samuel 16:7, it is written

The Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Jesse lined up seven of his sons and had them pass by before Samuel, but none of them were the one chosen by God to be king. Samuel asked Jesse if he had any more other sons and Jesse said he had one more son, the youngest one, David, who was tending the sheep.

Samuel called for David and when David arrived, God told him to anoint David as king.

In the natural, David seemed to be the least likely to be king. David’s father, Jesse, thought so lowly of David that he didn’t even bother to bring David to Samuel’s king-selection process.

In the same way, you may feel unqualified to achieve greatness. You may come from a humble family background or have limited education. But take heart. If you’re a Christian, you have the favour of God. This favour will cause people to choose you to take on high-ranking jobs even if you come from a low background. God’s favour will cause you to be promoted above your natural ability.

Gideon was another great leader whom God exalted even though he came from a humble background. In Judges, we are told that God commanded Gideon –  “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

Gideon’s reaction was one of fear and confusion. He said to God –  “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

 The Lord answered him, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

God’s presence with Gideon was enough to empower him to be a great leader of Israel, even though he was weak in his natural ability. In the same way, God’s supernatural presence in your life can strengthen you so you can excel in areas where you may feel lacking in your natural self.

What is God calling you to do today? Is He calling you to work in some area of ministry or shoot for some high-ranking job that you feel unequipped to handle? Remember how God showed His favour to David and Gideon and trust the favour He showed them is with you as well. Take a step of faith and answer His call – the task might seem like a mountain, but His favour will help you conquer the greatest heights.

God wants to get your attention

There’s a story about a farmer who wanted to sell his mule. He said that the mule would obey any command. A man came along and was interested in buying the mule. He wanted to test and see if the mule would indeed obey any given command. He said to the mule – “Sit down”. The mule just stood still. “Sit,” the customer said again. The mule didn’t move and stayed standing up. “You said the mule will obey any command but I can’t even get it to sit down,” the customer said to the farmer. The farmer picked up a baseball bat, walked over to the mule and smacked it on the head. “Sit down,” the farmer said. The mule sat down. The customer was shocked. “The mule will do anything,” the farmer said, “But you have to get its attention first.”

Suffering is like the farmer’s baseball bat. Sometimes God hits us with the suffering baseball bat to get our attention. We can easily get caught up with our activities and busy schedules that we forget about God. We may focus on our careers, families, friends, hobbies that we neglect to pay attention to God.  It’s only when we experience the pain of suffering, like a baseball bat hitting us, that we come to attention and seek God’s help for relief of the suffering.

As C.S. Lewis says in his book, The Problem of Pain,

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

Sometimes when we are prospering, we stop turning to God. We start to rely on ourselves and take pride in our self-efforts. We become complacent. The danger when nothing is wrong in our lives is that we may mistakenly assume that everything is all right. In fact, everything might be far from all right. As things are going well, we feel less need to rely on God and start drifting away from Him.

When a person experiences suffering, they immediately experience a change in attitude. Their weakness makes them realize that they need strength from a source other themselves. This sometimes leads them to seek help from a higher power – from God.

Paul knew the value of suffering to get his attention. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul writes that he was taken up to heaven and shown incredible visions. But this high was balanced with a low. As Paul explains:

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul’s thorn in the flesh made him pay attention to God, for whenever he experienced the pain of the thorn, it made him rely on Christ’s power.

So next time, when you face suffering, ask yourself is it because you have drifted away from God. If so, give thanks for the adversity and put your eyes back on Jesus. He’ll help you overcome your trials once you pay attention to Him!

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Sources of suffering

We all face suffering in our lives.

Many times we wonder who is behind the trials of our lives.

When the disciples encountered a man who had been born blind from birth, they asked Jesus – “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” (John 9:2)

The disciples assumed that illness must be a punishment for sin, thus they asked Jesus the above question. Jesus’ reply surprised them – “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents, but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Jesus challenged the disciples’ belief that suffering comes from sin by saying that there was a divine purpose behind the blindness, that it was to bring glory to God when Jesus healed the blind man of his illness.

In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul writes that

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

The thing that caused Paul to suffer came upon him from a good purpose, the suffering was to keep him humble, to keep him from becoming proud – and so it could be said that God was behind the thorn that kept Paul meek.

So sometimes God is behind our suffering. But another cause of suffering lies at our doorstep, sometimes we suffer because of our sin. The classic example is seen in the Fall of Man. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve lived in Eden in paradisiacal happiness. When they sinned against God by eating the fruit that He told them not to, they brought death into the world and all sorts of terrible things – illness, pain, famine, earthquakes, wars – these disasters were not part of God’s original plan but were sufferings that came about due to the presence of sin.

There is a third cause of suffering, which is Satan. In the story of Job. Satan notes that Job is righteous and is blessed by God. He challenges God to take away Job’s blessings and to strike him with great suffering to test Job’s faithfulness to God. In the story of Job it is clear that Job is a righteous man who was attacked by Satan.

This can be seen in Job 2:4-7:

 “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.

 

Peter also writes about how some sufferings come from Satan:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (1 Peter 5:8-9)

We are told to be alert to Satan’s plans and not to let our faith be shaken by the sufferings we face because of him.

So in conclusion, there are three main sources of suffering – God, sin and Satan. If we can identify the source, it can help us in our approach of dealing with the suffering. If the source of suffering is God, we can welcome it with joy and peace. If the source of suffering is sin, then we have to repent and seek God’s forgiveness. If the suffering is from Satan, then we should stand firm in our faith and resist the devil.

A Christian reaction to suffering

We all have to deal with suffering. When you are living in this fallen world, it’s likely that you will face problems, setbacks, disappointments and heartbreak. How you react to suffering is crucial, for your reaction to suffering will determine whether the trial makes you or breaks you. Some of the negative reactions to suffering include anger, bitterness, self-pity, fear, doubt – suffering can wreck your faith in God. Positive reactions to suffering include cultivating patience, endurance and a joyful spirit.

The Israelites were an example of a people who were punished by God for having a negative attitude towards suffering. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul writes:

“For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food  and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.  Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes.  And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.”

When they faced difficulties, the Israelites started to grumble and rebel against God and were punished by God with death.

An example of a person in the Bible who was blessed because he reacted well to suffering is Joseph. He had to face great suffering, first being sold as a slave by his brothers to the Egyptian Potiphar. Joseph kept his faith in God and maintained a positive attitude and he was blessed by God. In Genesis 39:4, it states that “Joseph found favor in Potiphar’s eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned.” However, Joseph had to face another great trial when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him. Joseph refused to give in to her demands and so Potiphar’s wife accused him of raping her. As a result, he was thrown in jail. Unlike the Israelites in the desert, Joseph did not grumble against God but kept his faith. As a result, Joseph prospered in the prison and the warden put him in charge of the place. In Genesis 39, it says “But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.”

Joseph’s example shows that if we keep a positive attitude and have faith in God when we are faced with suffering, God can turn the situation to our advantage and turn our trial into a blessing.

In James 1, the Apostle James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

When most people face trials, they react to it with fear, distress, upset or anger. Most people resist trials. James tells us that as Christians, we need to have a radically different reaction to suffering. We are to welcome suffering, even rejoice in the fact that we have suffering in our life. This is because for the Christian, trials are beneficial as it builds up our perseverance and endurance.

How we react to suffering determines our fate. An example would be the effect of the heat of sunlight on materials. When the sun shines on clay, it hardens but when the sun shines on wax, it melts. We should have hearts that melt in God’s love rather than stubborn hearts that harden in the heat.

So examine your reaction to suffering. Is it strengthening your faith that is being tested or is it leading you to question God’s love? Rather than expecting God to take away your suffering, ask yourself if you need to change your reaction to the suffering that is in your life. Are you letting the suffering help you develop patience and perseverance? Is the suffering inspiring you to put more of your faith in God and spurring you to rely on God’s strength, grace and mercy?

If you have the positive reaction to suffering, you’ll be surprised to find that the effects of suffering will be radically different from when you have a negative reaction to suffering. Examine your reactions, make the positive changes to your attitude and let God help you soar like an eagle above the storm!

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God’s forgiveness is easy

This week’s blog is about forgiveness.

Let’s look at the passage about the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32:

There was once a rich man who had two sons. The younger son went to his father and asked for his share of his inheritance so his father gave him his half of the estate.

The younger son went to a country far away from home and partied his wealth away, spending it all on women and wine. Then disaster struck. There was a famine in the country he was in and since he had spent all his money, he began to be in need. Desperate to fill his hungry stomach, he took a job feeding pigs. Now pigs are considered to be unclean animals for the Jews, so for the younger son to be feeding pigs showed how desperate he was, how low he had sunk from being a wealthy playboy.  He was in such a bad state that he even envied the unclean pigs – at least the pigs had pods to eat, while he was starving. The younger son remembered how well his father treated his servants, giving them ample delicious food to fill their bellies, so the young man decided to return to his father. He decided to beg his father to forgive him and say – “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.”

The young man embarked on the long journey back to his father. Now he didn’t know that his father spent his days sitting by the window, looking out for the younger son, waiting for his return. So even while the younger son far away from his home, his father spotted him in the distance. Filled with love for his son, he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

The father told his servants to bring the best robe in the house and dress the young son. He gave the son a ring and sandals as well. The father was so happy that he prepared a feast to celebrate the son’s return, slaughtering a fattened calf for him. The father rejoiced, saying – “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. The servants told him that his father had killed a fattened calf and was having a feast to celebrate his brother’s return.

When the older brother heard this, he was furious. The father went to the older brother and begged him to join the feast. But the older brother answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

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The thing that struck me when I last thought about this parable of the Prodigal Son was how easily the father forgave his son.

When we do something wrong, depending on who we have offended, we always worry that we have to do a lot to make up for our offence. And even if we have done a lot to apologize, we might have begged and pleaded for forgiveness and offered a great item for restitution, the person we offended might still not forgive us, depending on how merciful he/she is.

When we think about how holy God is, how He is perfect and sinless, and how much he hates sin, it would be logical to imagine that it would be very difficult for God to forgive us.  In Romans we are told that the wages of sin is death, and it’s easy to imagine God as an angry deity who zaps us with a giant thunderbolt, killing us as a punishment for our sins.

So the story of the Prodigal Son is a wonderful surprise, as it shows us how merciful God really is, how eager he is to forgive us, how forgiveness is easy for those who believe in Christ. Romans also tells us that the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord, and through Christ, we have access to the easy forgiveness of God, as forgiveness is a great gift that comes through our faith in Christ.

The story of the Prodigal Son shows us how enthusiastic God is to forgive us. God is like the father in the parable – he is actively looking out for us to return and even when we are in the far distance, when he sees us, he runs like mad to greet us, to throw his arms around us and kiss us. God, like the father in the story, wants to forgive us, not grudgingly, but with great passion.

Some of us might be like the son. We feel that we have let God down when we sin, and that we don’t deserve to be treated like a son anymore. We think that if we go to God, we will have to face awful consequences.

But God, like the father in the story, rejoices when we repent and return to Him. Instead of punishing us (like we expect), he throws a party to celebrate our repentance! It’s so easy to gain God’s forgiveness. We don’t have to do anything other than to repent and return to God – he’s hungrily waiting for us to come back to him.

If you think that God is angry with you for your sins, then you may be tempted not to go to God because you fear his punishment. Your sins lead you to condemn yourself, and your guilt stops you from having a relationship with God. However, the story of the Prodigal Son shows you that you do not need to live with fear and condemnation. God longs to forgive you and to show you His compassion. If you’ll only repent and walk on that road back to God’s house, you’ll find love and forgiveness beyond your imagination – you’ll find that instead of punishment, you’ll get a party, as God celebrates your return with joy beyond belief.

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