MRS. JOB

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. [2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT)]


When God gave Satan permission to test Job, He told the fallen angel that he could do anything he wanted to Job except take the man’s life. As a result, Job lost his wealth, possessions, children, and health. The only things left were his home and wife. Some might say that one of Job’s trials was that his wife didn’t die when the rest of his family did. After all, it was his wife who told him, “Curse God and die.”

Let’s not be too harsh with Mrs. Job; don’t forget that, when Satan stole Job’s normal, he also took life as she once knew it from his wife. She may have kept her health, but everything else she held near and dear was taken and she suffered the same emotional, economic, and social devastation as her husband. The ten children to whom she’d given birth, nursed and tended, were gone as were any grandchildren. Her mama’s heart had to be breaking. The family wealth (and status) had vanished in an instant; soon the bill collectors would arrive and, in all probability, the roof over their heads would vanish as well. Her strong and healthy husband, the man who loved and protected her, became an invalid overnight! He was covered with boils from head to toe and itched so badly that he scratched his skin with broken pottery. He had scabs all over his body and maggots and worms in his pus-filled sores. In deep depression, he was an insomniac who had nightmares when he managed to sleep. He was feverish, losing weight, in constant pain, had halitosis, his skin had turned dark, and he was in constant pain. Today’s doctors might diagnose a necrotizing skin fasciitis—think “flesh eating bacteria.” Job’s future was doubtful and his wife had to watch as he suffered. Witnessing her husband’s anguish and being unable to alleviate his pain couldn’t have been easy!

Moreover, there wasn’t much hope for Mrs. Job’s future; a better tomorrow was not on the horizon As far as she knew, she was facing imminent widowhood. A penniless widow with no children, she’d be the poorest of the poor, powerless, and vulnerable. Frightened and distraught, she was understandably angry at a God who allowed this to happen. Unfortunately, the only words of hers recorded are ones in which she took out that anger on her husband. Giving Mrs. Job the benefit of the doubt, those words may have been a combination of anguish and compassion— anguish about a seemingly hopeless situation and a compassionate hope that her husband’s suffering would end with his quick death.

As I thought about Mrs. Job, I thought of other people whose spouses are slowly being stolen by things like strokes, cancer, Parkinson’s, MS, and dementia. It seems that some of them have become rather cold to their afflicted partner and I’ve judged them unfairly (as I originally did Job’s wife). I forgot that they, too, are suffering. Their old normal is gone, their new normal is challenging, and their future is not the one they expected or hoped to have. Their lives have become a struggle as they try to cope with increasing responsibilities, mounting financial burdens, and a spouse who is deteriorating daily. Perhaps, what seems to be a lack of sympathy and understanding for their spouse is their way of preparing themselves for the loss they eventually will face. It’s not easy to summon compassion for people who seem to lack compassion themselves but, if I can muster sympathy for Mrs. Job, I should be able to muster far more sympathy for people I know who are caught in similar situations.

If ever presented with challenges like those of Job’s wife, I pray that I’ll be strong, brave, supportive, hopeful, loving, and trusting of God. As for now, I’ll no longer judge Mrs. Job or her brothers and sisters in similar situations. Whether or not I like their attitude or behavior is not my business. My job is simple—prayers, compassion, and support, not just for the afflicted, but also for their caregivers. The job of caregiver is not an easy one. Father, give them strength, wisdom and compassion in the face of their tremendous challenges.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. [Colossians 3:12-14 (NLT)]

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LIFE’S THORNS

So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. [2 Corinthians 12:7 (NLT)]

roseThe prayer from The Valley of Vision read: “I am at a loss to know what thou wouldest have me do, for I feel amazingly deserted by thee, and sense thy presence so little…” In the margin of the book, I’d written “I feel this way sometimes!” while adding “I’m in need of grace!” For much of the past year, I’ve pondered the question of, “Where is God when you desperately need Him?” I’ve often felt abandoned and alone as if my prayers for relief were falling on deaf ears.

It’s easier to write about Paul’s acceptance of the thorn in his flesh, taking pleasure in our troubles, and finding strength in our weakness than actually doing it! While usually translated as “thorn” the Greek word used in 2 Corinthians 12:7 was skolops which meant anything with a sharp point that could produce pain—from a splinter to a stake upon which he could be impaled! We don’t know the exact nature of Paul’s thorn but there’s no doubt it caused him more distress than a mere splinter and, by the time he wrote 2 Corinthians, it had afflicted him for fourteen years! Used figuratively, the thorn could have been his poor eye sight, another physical ailment, depression, persecution, or an enemy. His vagueness is purposeful since the verse is not about the thorn’s identity but its purpose and, at some time or another, we all will have thorns troubling us.

Although Paul knew he could only survive by depending on the Lord, he initially saw only two options. Either the Lord could remove the thorn so he could get on with his ministry or the thorn would remain troubling him and hindering his ministry. God, however, offered Paul a third option. God would leave the thorn but supply him with grace enough to continue—not on Paul’s strength but, by the grace of God, on His.

For more than a year, a series of painful physical issues have plagued me. Although I had some temporary relief, now they’re back and brought some thorny friends with them. For the past year, my prayers were about returning to what I called normal, which simply was the old routine to which I’d grown accustomed and liked. Like Paul, I saw only two options and it felt like my prayers fell on deaf ears as I pled for relief. Thinking of myself as sort of a super woman who, with enough grit, could power through every setback, it was pride that kept me from praying the right prayer. Finally, rather than pleading with God to remove my thorn, my prayer was one of acceptance; I asked God for grace enough to meet each day and to show me how to serve Him in what is my new normal. God hadn’t been deaf to me but my pride had caused me to be deaf to Him. Giving the same answer He gave Paul, He reminded me that His power works best in weakness and His grace is all I need. God told me to accept my thorns and to trust in His future grace.

Depending on God’s power and strength, I will continue in this ministry but, in acceptance of my limitations, rather than Monday through Friday, God willing, I will publish only twice each week: Monday and Thursday. Paul’s thorn didn’t stop him and, while mine will slow me down, it won’t stop me either!

O that all my distressed and apprehensions might prove but Christ’s school to make me fit for greater service by teaching me the great lesson of humility. [The Valley of Vision – A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions (Arthur Bennett, ed.)]

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  [2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (NLT)]

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YOU WOULDN’T UNDERSTAND

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” [Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT)]
spiderwort

During our summer travels, we were seated with a young couple during breakfast at a rural B&B. Upon discovering they were PhD candidates at the University of Chicago, we asked for an explanation of their research. Our eyes glazed over as the man used words like photons, leptons, mesons, baryons, and hadronic interactions. By the time his wife explained her materials research and mentioned macromolecular interactions, microstructures, interface dynamics, nanoparticles and stress variations, I think we would have preferred a flippant, “We’d tell you but then we’d have to kill you!” response to the ones we got. As patient as they were and as dumbed-down as they made their explanations, we barely knew more about their studies at the end of our conversation than we did at the beginning.

Perhaps a better answer to our questions would have been, “You wouldn’t understand even if we told you!” Nevertheless, if they’d said that, even though they were right, we would have been offended by their answer and insisted we could figure it out. Their world, however, is so far removed from ours and their vocabulary so specific that it would have taken them hours (more likely days) of explanation before we could have a vague understanding of what they did and why they did it. Nevertheless, we managed to find common ground in our fondness for Chicago, the charm of the B&B, and the delicious breakfast we were enjoying.

Even though the Bible clearly explains that God’s thoughts and ways are not ours, Scripture’s answer is neither satisfying nor comforting in the face of tragedy. Naturally, we want an explanation but God is strangely silent. Perhaps that’s just His way of saying, “Trust me, child, you really wouldn’t understand even if I explained it all to you!” While it’s not found in the Bible, the old maxim, “God works in mysterious ways,” is true. If the world of physics and materials science is beyond my limited understanding, I know I’m incapable of ever understanding what makes God run the universe the way He does. I’m still having trouble understanding a love so great that He gave His son as propitiation for our sins! I can’t fully grasp an all-powerful God who has always existed and always will—an all-knowing God, unconstrained by time or space, who can be everywhere at once—a God who can see yesterday, today and all the variations of tomorrow at one time. If I can’t fully comprehend God’s traits, what makes me think I could ever comprehend His reasoning?

We mortals want a detailed explanation of our lives from God but, even if He offered us one, we’d never understand it. Moreover, I’m not so sure I really want to know—the weight of such divine knowledge would be overwhelming. As we did with those grad students, however, we can find common ground—in God’s case, that would be His love for us and our love for Him. For now, that will have to suffice.

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! [Romans 11:33 (NLT)]

The teaching of your word gives light, so even the simple can understand. [Psalm119:130 (NLT)]

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs And works His sov’reign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flow’r.
Blind unbelief is sure to err And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter, And He will make it plain.
[William Cowper]

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MEGA MILLIONS

For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. [1 Timothy 6:10 (NLT)]

Wealth from get-rich-quick schemes quickly disappears; wealth from hard work grows over time. [Proverbs 13:11 (NLT)]

St. Abune Teklehaimanot, I pray You help me win the Lottery today. I beseech, entreat and beg you who stood upon one leg that you may grant my fervent plea and the winner of the jackpot will be me! [Pete Crowther]

mountain bluebirdKnown for his extreme piety and for sprouting wings when he fell off a mountain, some people regard St. Abune Teklehaimanot as the patron saint of gamblers. The last years of his life, he chose to live in small deep cave that had spears sticking out of all the walls and remained standing the entire time, even after breaking a leg. While the wing sprouting and ability to remain standing seem to be lucky breaks, I find him an odd saint from whom to request help at winning the lottery. Nevertheless, some people do. Considering the size of tonight’s Mega Millions lottery (at least $530 million and counting), I imagine several ticket purchasers have been calling on God (and even Saint Abune).

I wonder what God thinks of the lottery. We’re told to be good stewards of our blessings, so does He approve of spending hard-earned money on a game of chance? I understand the odds of winning this lottery are 1 in 302,575,350 and, compared to those odds, getting struck by lightning (1 in 12,000) seems a near certainty! Since purchasing a lottery ticket is little better than tossing money out the window, I’m not sure God approves.

Moreover, because the ones who buy the most lottery tickets are the people who can least afford them, many believe the lottery actually exploits the poor. God, who tells us to care for the less fortunate, might disapprove for that reason alone. He also might object simply because the sole purpose of purchasing a lottery ticket is to win money. Jesus cautioned about the danger of riches getting in the way of faith and it’s in 1 Timothy that we’re warned about the love of money being the root of evil. Proverbs warns us about “get rich quick” schemes which certainly describes the lottery. I really don’t know where God stands on the lottery and, while I suspect He doesn’t much like it, I doubt that buying a lottery ticket occasionally is a sin. Nevertheless, we better remember that greed always is a sin!

Now we come to the question of praying to win the lottery. Personally, I think that’s not the kind of prayer God wants to hear and it will fall on deaf ears. On the other hand, what if we promise to give it to God? What if we promise to build Habitat homes, Family Life Centers for churches, and schools and hospitals in third-world countries? What if we promise to fund church missions and missionaries, medical care for the indigent, mental health services, shelters for the homeless, day care facilities, food pantries, and seminary costs for aspiring pastors? Would asking God for the winning ticket be the right prayer then? Will God listen if we promise every cent to His work? As much as God wants us to do good works, I don’t think a winning lottery ticket is how He wants them done.

God promises to provide for our needs but He expects us to do the work and make some sacrifices along the way. Let’s face it—giving away money that hasn’t been earned is hardly a sacrifice. God expects us to appreciate His blessings and, if there’s been no effort on our part, there usually is little or no appreciation of the blessing. That’s why groups like Habitat for Humanity require some sweat equity from the families who receive a home. It is up to every one of us, not just the lottery winners, to have altruistic and unselfish goals and it is up to every one of us to do something about achieving them. Rich and poor alike, we all must do our part to fund those worthy causes, feed the hungry, and build those needed homes, hospitals, schools, and churches and all without lotto winnings.

If you win the Mega Millions tonight, I pray you use your money wisely and remember that the more we are blessed by God, the more He expects us to bless others. A word of caution for the winner—according the New York Daily News, nearly 70% of lottery winners end up broke or bankrupt within seven years!

Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” [Hebrews 13:5 (NLT)]

And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God. [Hebrews 13:16 (NLT)]

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PETER WENT FREE

O Sovereign Lord! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you! [Jeremiah 32:17 (NLT)]
angel

Herod Agrippa I was a good politician who knew how to manipulate people to gain their loyalty and support. When his approval rating went up after the execution of James, the king arrested Peter, the acknowledged leader of the apostles. Perhaps he thought by literally cutting off the head of this new sect, he could put an end to the troubling Nazarene movement. After imprisoning Peter, Agrippa planned to try and execute him once the Passover ended. The trial’s delay was because Jewish law did not allow for executions during the eight-day celebration.

Since this was Peter’s third arrest, Agrippa made sure he was not going to be released with a slap on the wrist or allowed to escape, as he’d previously done. Peter was guarded by four squads of four soldiers each.  Although a prisoner usually was attached by chain to one guard, Peter was chained to two soldiers while the other two guarded the door to his cell.

At this point, it appeared that evil had won. John and the others were mourning James’ death and Peter was in custody facing execution! Rather than lose heart, however, the church spent the eight days and nights of Passover fervently praying for Peter’s release. I suspect that while Peter was chained in his cell, when he wasn’t evangelizing his captors, he prayed as well. Herod may have had prisons and chains but the church had the power of prayer. On the night before his trial, Peter was miraculously freed by an angel. Herod Agrippa thought Peter was secure in prison but he didn’t take into account the power of God—the cross and sealed tomb couldn’t stop Jesus and a cell wouldn’t stop Peter!

What’s interesting in this narrative is that Peter thought it was just a dream when the chains fell from his wrists, the angel led him from the cell, and the gates opened by themselves. It wasn’t until the angel left him on the streets of Jerusalem that the apostle realized the Lord actually freed him! In the same way, in spite of their week of fervent prayers, when Peter appeared at the home where the church had gathered to pray, they were so astonished that their prayers were answered that they didn’t believe the servant who said Peter was at the door nor did they believe their eyes when they actually saw him! They were like the Iowa church during a several months’ long drought. When they called for a prayer meeting, everyone came and prayed for rain but nobody believed enough to arrive there with an umbrella!

As Puritan minister Thomas Watson pointed out, “The angel fetched Peter out of prison, but it was prayer that fetched the angel.” Even though the odds against Peter were astronomical, we should never bet against God nor should we be surprised when He answers our prayers or exceeds our expectations!

Forgive us, Lord, when we’re surprised by answers to our prayer; Increase our faith and teach us how to trust Your loving care. [Sper]

Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.” [Mark 10:27 (NLT)]

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.  [Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)]

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SLEEPLESS NIGHTS

Glen Canyon - Lake Powell
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)]

“What keeps you awake at night?” he asked. The questioner, however, wasn’t interested in my husband’s snoring or my reaction to caffeine or spicy foods. He wondered what things weigh heavy enough on my heart that I’m kept from peaceful sleep.

While a venti latte in the late afternoon can keep me awake and I may take a midnight trip to the bathroom, other than my recent bout with bronchitis or when I’m in physical pain, not much robs me of a night’s sleep. It wasn’t always that way. There was a time when things like worry, resentment, disappointment, fear, regret, and even despair overwhelmed me enough to deprive me of sleep. Nowadays, I’ve found that resting in God’s word has a way of pushing aside my concerns better than any lullaby or sleep aid.

Unfortunately, it took me way too many years to understand that things like anxiety, apprehension, and angst simply push God out of His rightful place. Even though I knew better, I felt responsible for the happiness and success of everyone I loved. I thought I had to be perfect (or as near to perfect as possible) to be loved by God or man and I worried because perfection was unachievable. Some nights, I also brought a bag of remorse, guilt, and grief to bed along with my concerns and cares. Instead of counting sheep, I would catalogue regrets, troubles, offenses, and misgivings.

It took a few crises to knock me to my knees where I belonged—praying instead of worrying and surrendering to God instead of trying to be Him. Once I resigned as ruler of the universe, I finally found the peace Jesus promised that had seemed so elusive. Understanding that God does a much better job of running lives than I ever could, I turned it all over to Him. After all, He’s up all night anyway so there’s no reason both of us should stay awake!

Better than melatonin, chamomile tea, or lavender aromatherapy is the reassurance found in God’s word that God is firmly in control and He is bigger than all of our burdens combined. Our job is to hand those burdens over to the Lord and leave the rest up to Him! As for regrets, the Apostle Paul told the Philippians that he focused on forgetting the past and looking forward to what lay ahead. [3:13] We should do the same. If God can forgive us, we can graciously accept His forgiveness and forgive ourselves. If He can say “over, done with, and gone” about our offenses, then we can do the same for others.

Now, instead of sheep, problems, fears, or regrets, I count my blessings! Even if the day went every which way but right, there’s always something for which to be thankful—even if it’s that tomorrow is another day! If I ever happen to find myself wakeful, I figure it’s the Lord telling me the day’s work isn’t done and there’s something about which I need to pray.

What keeps you awake at night? Is there a Bible verse that might help you sleep better? Resting in God’s word probably is more effective than many of those sleep medications on the market and there are no undesirable side effects! Like those prescription meds, however, there is a warning—you can get dependent upon God’s word. Indeed, the peace that passes understanding is addictive!

God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you. [Augustine]

In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe. [Psalm 4:8 (NLT)]

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