When Life Troubles You

The wise king, Solomon, in the Proverbs asks these questions –

“Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
Who has redness of eyes?”

We understand that he is speaking of one who tarries long at the wine and imbibes in strong drink. The warning is decidedly present to avoid that which causes you to lose your self-control.

But did these questions ever come to Solomon’s heart when he simply lived out his life from day to day? Were there days when he gazed upon his face, like his father before him, and wonder why his pillow was wet with his tears through the night?

Yet, there are days when the struggles are so real that you do not know what to say to another. Your heart is pained and the woe and sorrow seems to multiply to the point where you feel as though you would be overwhelmed like the banks of the Jordan during its peak season.

The words of Solomon reflect that these words must have meant more to him when we find him at the end of life’s battles. Listen to the words of The Preacher found in Ecclesiastes 2:3; 5:18, and in 6:12.

“3 I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine–my heart still guiding me with wisdom–and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life.”

“18 Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.”

“12 For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?”

Can you feel his pain? Here is a man who had anything and everything a human could need or want in life, but it was all vanity. Life was coming to a close for him and he realized that his struggles were very real. How many days and nights must he have recognized strife or seen the redness in his eyes from weeping? Must he have wondered if such struggles were even necessary? Surely, there could have been no thought in his mind that he was the only one who ever faced struggles. But the struggles he had were peculiar to him and the only person who ever fully understood Solomon was the God who created him.

But, were there days he looked deep within his soul and found, as Martin Luther called it, the black dog of depression staring back at him? He faced, just as we do, the face of reality and sometimes it produces wounds that seem as though they are without cause. Ultimately, we know that the wounds are caused because of sin and having to deal with the remnants of the old nature, but that does not make going through them any easier. Human beings are fickle and we like to know we are loved, cared for, and surrounded by others who can understand our struggles.

What of those times when it seems as though the heart will shatter in pieces? Yes, we can even find ourselves not knowing how or what we should pray. At those times, the apostle Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf when there is nothing but groans coming from the heart.

The daily battles are real though. We are forced to deal with people who do not have God at the center of their lives. This becomes painfully apparent when you take the time to listen to the words and music that pours from their lips and the speakers of your workplace. Brothers and sisters, it is mind-numbing. Then, we must gather the pieces of our soul and go home to find a family that wants to be loved. They want to know that you are there to help protect them, but the task can seem overwhelming and even, at times, impossible.

Words and thoughts that are grieving to the Holy Spirit rise unbidden. It is all you can do to swallow the bile in your throat as you realize again and again and again that if it was not for the grace of God that you would be right where others are. Lost, apart from the tender mercies of God, and even more bereft of hope.

The 21st century is a ponderous time, and this is certainly true for those who are true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. We face an uncertain future in a world that hates Christ and His followers. The followers of which I speak are those who have been given the ability to be overcomers as we find in 1 John 5.

True Christians struggle to even find hope in their fellowship with other believers for it has been demeaned to match the pop culture so prevalent in America. Scattered among the heathen found in the pews of Sunday worshipers are those whose hearts wonder if there is more. Is there more to life? Is there more to our worship? Must we engage with the forces of evil all through the week only to have to deal with the same mundane fluff that is called worship every Sunday?

Our churches are to be hospitals for the wounded and dying, but we have reduced them to places where we can get our “God” fix for the next week or two. The ears are filled with the praise of man and not the praise of God. Trivial worship has made for trivial lives. Trivial messages have built the self-esteem of man to the point where we think we are invincible and have little need of God. We are thinking of ourselves so highly that when our world crashes down around us that we first turn inward for truth and find nothing but the sad strain of more woes, strife, and contentions.

Life is a journey of battles and as Job stated, “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble (14:1).”

Is there any wonder that we who know Christ long for more than what we find? Our eyes are red because the hope we have in what we thought we could produce or find in life has been nothing but vanity of vanities. The corporate ladder we sought to climb is built with straw rungs. The closeness of family has become little more than a dream as disrespect for parents has been the new calling card of the Millennial generation.

Children of the 21st century think they are owed the world on a platter. Sadly, like Solomon, we may find that we have been raising a Rehoboam, or that we have one who is like an Absalom to his parents.

Sometimes, the fellowship of friendships can drift apart through no reason than that life has gotten in the way. For those who are true believers, we can be assured that God brings people into our lives to be a blessing and so that we can be a blessing to them. But what happens when we depend on the friendship more than we seem to depend on the One Who alone will never leave us or forsake us?

All of these things can cause redness of eyes and wounds to the heart because life is troubling. Life deals out blows and they can even cause us to buckle. But is that such a bad thing? When we have finally come to our senses and realize that the only way we can look is up then we are in the right place. Overcoming wounds of the heart will never be easy in this life, but we can grow stronger through those wounds.

When the wounds are deep and the nights are long, those are the times that we must look to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is upon Him that we must cast our burdens because He is the One Who cares for us. The troubles of life will come and they will go like the tides of the ocean, but we must cry to the Master of the Sea when we feel that our ship is sinking.

My prayer is that these words are an encouragement to needy hearts. You are not alone in this world. Other brothers and sisters face their own battles. The contentions of their life may not be what you struggle with, but they are just as real. However, this life will soon be over and only what is done for Christ will last. If you are down, allow your eyes to gaze upon the sweet face of the Savior. Allow your heart and mind to be lost in the wonder that He loves you with an infinite love and there is nothing that can separate you from that love – EVER!

That last paragraph is enough to help me refocus my thoughts, even when I do not understand what is happening or why it is happening. Ultimately, when I regain my focus on that which is eternal, I will remember the joy that will belong to every believer as one day we bow the knee before the King of all the ages on His throne. We will bow with adoration and simply proclaim that these were but light afflictions.

Brethren, Pray For Me

Brethren, Pray For Me

2 Thess 3:1-2 Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith.

One thing that is hardly addressed these days is the desperate need of prayer for pastors and missionaries. These men are in the forefront of the spiritual battle. We see so many fall to the wayside due to many reasons both physical and spiritual. Sometimes, they give in to the pressure of being told not to stand for the truth, maybe they become afraid in the battle, or grow weary because of the fight. Maybe they have been ill used by the congregation and their very soul is tattered and torn, maybe they struggle against sin or a specific sin, maybe their family is falling apart and they feel overwhelmed by everything going on, or maybe they are in a deep depression at this point.

Yes, we can all feel those things at one point or another yet how few people realize the tremendous pressure these men are under. They are in the front line of fire, spiritually speaking, and there is much they have to endure that most wouldn’t allow. A lot of people in the congregation think that because they pay the pastor or missionary that he has to obey them in everything. Don’t get me wrong as I believe in accountability but the people don’t own the heart and soul of the pastor and missionary. God owns their soul and is the One whose will should be followed completely and wholeheartedly.

Preaching in the right spirit and with all a person’s heart is quite similar to a day’s work. It’s easy to complain that the pastor doesn’t do anything but a person who says that hasn’t watched a true pastor give himself up in his preaching.

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Brothers and sisters, pray for your pastor. Pray that he will stand true to the Word of God and do what’s right regardless of the cost. Pray that his heart will be touched by what he studies and that the Holy Spirit will speak to him, first, then speak through him when he preaches. Pray that his heart will be renewed day by day. If he has a secular job as well as the ministry, buckle down and pray the Lord will give him strength for both positions. It’s not easy on a pastor to work, take time out for his family, and do what he needs to do for the family of God. Pray also for the health of the pastor who works as he will very seldom get time off.

Brothers and sisters, pray for the missionaries. Pray the same thing for the missionaries except they need added encouragement when they live in a different country. There will be culture shock on their parts and will need extra grace to adjust.

One more thing, pray that the Lord will cover both pastors and missionaries with His cloak of protection. May they each stand firm and do the Lord’s will. A strong man of God will mean one who’s ready to follow the Lord and guide his ministry in the way that they should go but a weak man of God means his ministry will fall into apostasy.

Thoughts on Suicide

*** Note from Mark – knowing how much this has affected Sony, this is not an invitation to debate on this one, nor will derogatory comments be permitted. It is simply meant to be an encouragement to people to reach out if they are struggling with the thought of suicide. We are not all going to agree on every aspect of doctrine, but these words are helpful. ***

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Last week, I found out that an acquaintance committed suicide. This was not a close friend but it affected me as I’ve pondered why people take such extreme measures when, more often than not, the trials of life are only temporary afflictions.

This is only the second time I can remember someone I know dying by his own hand. In the other case, the motive seemed to be selfishness: getting back at someone else.

In many cases, the motive is extreme hopelessness, and this makes me sad. Where there is life, there is always hope. It is only after death that nothing can be changed. At that point, not only your past, but your present and future are determined forever.

I wonder, though, if sometimes people commit suicide due to guilt. Could people honestly have done something “so bad” that they don’t think even God would forgive them, so they take the “easy way out” instead of humbling themselves in repentance and trusting God’s saving grace?

This last thought concerns me even more than the others. There is no sin that God won’t forgive IF a person is willing to repent and turn from that sin. The problem is that many don’t want to do that and so they live with the guilt of the life they are living until tragedy claims that life.

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I understand discouragement, and I have been down to the point of wanting to die. But I remind myself that there is a reason that I am still alive, and it has nothing to do with me. The God who placed me on this earth still has a plan for my life and, until that plan is finished, I must be faithful. There is no “easy out” for a Christian. We are called to take up our cross daily and follow Him.

The thoughts going through my mind right now are many. First of all, my heart goes out to those who think the only way out of their problem is to end their life. But I also wonder how many people I know are struggling more deeply than I would ever imagine. We live in a world of “happy” faces, where people don’t want to be burdened with others. Therefore, there are a lot of lonely people in this world. As Christians, we should never be so busy or unconcerned that we don’t take time to listen to someone who is struggling. If someone is willing to open up and talk to you, it may be because they are hoping you will show them the Hope they need.

If you are one who is down and suicide has even crossed your mind, please find someone to talk to. I realize that you can’t trust just anybody but ask God to show you someone who would be willing to pray with you and check on you periodically to make sure you are okay. Although there will always be trials in this life, they truly are temporary, and God can give you the strength to walk through them if you allow Him to.

Don’t become another statistic. Be a victor! And help others to be victorious as well.

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Peace That Passes All Understanding

As we grow older, life does not get any easier. Not only do we find ourselves concerned about the regular cares of the world, but now we have children and grandchildren that must be taken into account. In the midst of a world that is rocked with scandal, pain, wars, and turmoil, it is so easy to find ourselves distracted and overwhelmed by the world. It seems that our little lives can also be torn apart with strife in our families. These times simply show that we are fallen creatures of clay who have been saved by grace.

Our desires should not be for this world but to realize we are just passing through. Soon enough will come a day where like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, we will dip our feet in the waters of death as we prepare to go to the other side where we will be forever with our Lord and those saints who have gone before. What a glorious day that will be.

Although the pain in our hearts is very real, there are many who have suffered much more than most of us will ever experience. Such a person was Horatio Spafford, who wrote the words to a well-loved hymn called, “It is Well With My Soul.” This man suffered greatly with the loss of four children at once through the sinking of a ship that was enroute across the Atlantic Ocean. This beautiful hymn was written by Spafford as he journeyed to meet his wife in Europe on the next ship. Crossing over the spot where the ship entombing his daughters was, Spafford, with the strength of the Lord, wrote with full assurance in the God of his salvation that “It was well with his soul.”

No matter what struggles or pain you and I may endure today, there will always be a peace that passes all understanding. Only those who rejoice in Jesus Christ and know Him as personal Savior can reiterate with Paul that there is nothing in life or death that can separate us from the love of God.

Family and friends may forsake us and foes may assail us, but His love will endure forever. I am thankful that today I can ask with the Psalmist in 116:15, “What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits towards me? I will take the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the LORD.”

For those who remain friends, you are a blessing and an encouragement. May you be encouraged with the words of these two hymns today.

 

Do All As Unto the Lord

Lord, help me not to be discouraged now and then
When work I’ve done brings someone else to fame
Help my spirit soar past the need to be adored
Lord, help me be the reason that lives are changed

Should satan come to blind or disillusion me
Come down when he shows up to make his claim
Don’t let it ever be because I couldn’t see
I missed the mark
Lord, help me when I aim

These words, penned by the late Kenny Hinson, reflect my prayer today. I don’t know about you, but I find it easy to get discouraged. Sometimes I hate being human, as I realize how far I have to go in order to be like Christ. At the same time, there is comfort in knowing that, in the words of Jim Brady, “He loves me too much to leave me just as I am.” The fact that God continues to reveal those areas to me is proof. I should be concerned if He ever stops.

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I am a “behind the scenes” person for our ministry. Not because I prefer it, but because that is where my gifts lie (or at least it is a need that I can fill). There have been times I have struggled with this, but God has helped me to understand that every work done for Him is significant. If the work I do allows my brother to successfully do what God has called him to do, then I am blessed, because I am right where God wants me.

I share that to say this: No work is big or small in God’s eyes. The important thing is that you are heartily doing the work He has given you to do. People may not appreciate you. They may not see how hard you are working. But God does, and He is the only One that matters in the end. Sure, there may be times you need to switch jobs if it is bringing you down. Just make sure it is God moving you on and not just your pride.

This week, determine to go about your tasks with a song on your heart and thanksgiving to God for using you. And pray this prayer with me:

So that I don’t miss the mark
Lord, help me when I aim

Dementia – Fighting for Joy

The Gospel Coalition posted this week some thoughts on dementia that I would highly recommend you read. I understand the heartbreak that many go through as they seek to care for their loved ones. As the disease takes hold, the mind of the loved one disappears into an ether that will never return. Some good friends are struggling with this at present with a family member and the sorrow they feel brings back some painful memories.

Dementia

I recall vividly, when my wife and I lived in England, having to watch my grandmother disappear before our eyes. In a very short timespan, I went from being her grandson, to her son, to her brother, and then one painful day, she no longer recognized me. This was a lady who loved the Lord and who had long sung the songs of Zion. Her face had changed little. The pain continued to course through her frail body but she rarely complained in the last months of her life. Even when my own dear mother came to visit us in England, we took her to visit her mom but there was not even a flicker of recognition for her daughter. What a painful experience and another sobering reality of what this life can bring to those we dearly love.

However, there is an unexplainable joy that comes to our hearts when we realize that for those who know Christ, they are kept secure in His care. Nothing can separate them from the love of Christ – not even dementia. For those who are left behind, appreciate what you have because one day it will be too late.

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We deal with these things because of the curse and sin that has passed from Adam to all of his descendants. Praise the Lord though that one day all of sin and death will be totally swallowed up. There will be no pain, no suffering, no tears, and no diseases of any kind. “What a day that will be when our Jesus we shall see!” This is the encouragement that is provided by the truth of Scripture.  For those who have a family member going through this, still show your love to those who cannot remember you. Many times, in our younger years, they loved us when we did not understand. It is our responsibility and our privilege to care for those who will go before we do to the other side of eternity.

Do not lose heart, dear friends and readers, at what you see before you. Trust the Lord for His wisdom, strength, and guidance as you give loving care even to those who no longer know who you are.