Meeting discouragement

I thought it was an interesting point Selwyn makes: “A lot of work has been done in recent years on discouragement, revealing that it sometimes has a physical cause. If a person is discouraged for a considerable period, it may be because of poor sleeping habits, a chemical imbalance, a physical infection or an inadequate diet. Of course  you would pray with a discouraged person, but if there is no subsequent change, encourage them to have a medical check-up.”

It has been widely reported that men often ignore the physical signs of illness, that somehow, whatever it is, will go away. Therefore, what Selwyn says is worth considering especially if the person has not had a medical check-up for a fair, length of time. Our mental sense of well-being is affected by the state of our physical health, and the changes to our body may be happening slowly, and not so obvious to us. Yet, it may be easily picked-up during a medical examination. We are called to be good stewards of the resources that God provides; that includes our health, both physical and mental.

I also liked Selwyn’s conclusion: “Discouraged people need more than anything else, to find a new perspective on life, and this can often come from a caring friend who lovingly challenges and help change the discouraged person’s assumptions and ways of thought. You could be that friend.”

Perhaps discouragement arises from high and unreasonable expectations not being met, and may be seen when the person feels they have failed in some way or other.  It could be that they are depending too much on their own abilities and not looking towards Jesus for help – with the confidence that His love will act in a way, that will produce good fruit, even if we can’t see the harvest, at the time. It’s complete trust in His love, that He is a perfect Father, who hears our calls for help, and will always assist us in the best possible way. Do you agree?

Why suffering?

As Selwyn states: There is no easy answer to this question – ‘Why suffering?’

It’s my view that the full reason for suffering is hidden from us. We get some clues from Job, that sometimes the faith of righteous people is tested by Satan, and God allows this form of testing. In addition, we live in a fallen world where there has been a gradual decay of God’s good creation. Sin was bought into the garden of Eden, and since then Satan has been allowed to exercise some form of control over this world. Consequently, there is illness and suffering, which can happen to anyone; faulty DNA, illness or accidents are just part of the general environment in which we live.  

We also know from Scripture that an individual may suffer, or have an accident, that is not related to a specific case of sin in that person’s life; but, in a general sense, we are all sinners – living in a sinful world. Listen carefully to Jesus’ words in Luke 13:1-5 (NIV): ‘Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Orthose eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Yet, we also know, that there are examples where suffering was the direct result of specific events, for example, David suffered because of his sins committed with Bathsheba, and the murder of her husband. 2 Samuel 12:8-15 (NIV): (God speaking to David through Nathan the prophet) “I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

“This is what the LORD says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’ ”

Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”  Nathan replied, “The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.”

After Nathan had gone home, the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill.”

Notice that God makes it very clear to David, as to ‘why’ he will suffer. Consequently, it’s my view that where people suffer because of a particular sin, God, tells the person (by some means) –  the reason for their ‘corrective’ punishment – there is no room for doubt. In summary, most cases of suffering fall into the earlier category –  it’s part of our fallen world. The important aspect for God’s people, is how we respond to it. The second category, illustrated by what happened to David; is, I think, extremely rare.

My final comment on suffering links back to my introductory remarks – that, we don’t fully understand the reasons for it, and it’s related to the mystery of God’s suffering on the cross for us.  What we can depend upon, is this: Jesus understands our suffering because He too has terribly suffered.  The good news is that we can look forward to an eternity of joy and peace with Christ; where the 80 years, or so, of our flawed and suffering life on earth, will be less than a heartbeat, in comparison.

I liked this bit from today’s study, Selwyn writes: “We have already seen that the law of Christ is the law of caring. How does Jesus care (love)? He cared enough to hang on a cross and become, so to speak, the ‘dumping ground’ for our independence, anger, hatred and distrust. To a lesser degree, He calls upon you and me to do the same. Do you care enough about someone to sit with them and become the ‘dumping ground’ for their difficult feelings and concerns? Don’t worry if you have no theological explanation for the problem of human pain – just show the suffering person that you care.”

I have found that one of the best ways to show our love for a suffering person, is to pray – with and for, the suffering person; taking their pain to the One, who demonstrated to us all – what suffering really is …

What are your views on this issue of suffering?

Common Christian problems

Selwyn now looks at ‘some of the issues and struggles that arise in our hearts and minds’.

The first issue he looks at is doubt: people may doubt, for example, whether God loves them, whether He answers prayer, or whether the Bible is true. Selwyn, further on, makes this observation: “Keep in mind, that many doubts are not in the mind but in the heart. Some are intellectual, but most are emotional. By this I mean the person may be carrying a deep hurt which causes them to question the truth and reality of their intellectual beliefs. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to give answers. Get alongside the person and show, by listening and understanding, that you care.”

What’s your view on the highlighted point above? I think it perhaps has a lot to do with your personality – for example, I’m an ‘ideas’ person – and, so I spend a lot of time thinking about issues, and although I may wrestle, at great lengths, with various thoughts I rarely become emotional about these sorts of issues.

Maybe, it’s when you have invested a lot of yourself into following a particular lifestyle, and that lifestyle isn’t delivering the sort of outcomes you expect, then it becomes an emotional issue for your heart – and doubts arise.

Take for example, these verses from today’s scripture (Luke 24:19-27, NLT), set for reading and meditation – the two followers of Jesus, who were walking to the village of Emmaus, had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel, they now thought that their hope was in vain – which gave rise to doubts; listen to how Jesus handles their doubts:  “The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.

“Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”

Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

Consequently, this is also, an excellent example for us – when we have doubts about issues like God’s love for us: first pray for guidance and a listening heart, and then go to the Scriptures and read the accounts, concerning God’s love for all His people. Sometimes, we need to take the opposite journey, for our hearts to convince our intellect, after our hearts have journey with Christ on His way to His crucifixion, and our hearts have felt His pain and suffering – this is the sort of heart-felt evidence which can convince a doubting mind. Do you agree?

Caring is understanding

I’m often told that men like to try to solve problems; women like to listen to problems, and receive comfort that others are suffering in the same way. Consequently, when I read today’s study, I recalled this (alleged) fundamental difference between men and women. Is this a true difference – I ask in honest humility – what do you think?

I like Selwyn’s conclusion: “If you want to help people, don’t repeat exactly what they say. They will feel as though they are talking to a parrot. Summarise what you hear, expressing it in different words. How does this help? It shows the person that you have grasped and comprehended their problem, and gives them the reassurance that although you may not have a solution, you understand their predicament and their feelings. And being understood is as helpful to the emotions as good advice is to the mind. Don’t seek to solve the person’s problem (leave that to Jesus) – seek to understand the person’s feelings.”

I think the prayer for today is very good: “Father God, help me to be skillful at this task of helping people to feel understood. Give me opportunities to put this caring skill into practice this very day. I am Yours to use. Thank You, Father. Amen.”

Yes, I know, I really like solving problems – hard to move away from, and let God, be God! Pray for me, in this regard – thanks.

Caring is hope

Selwyn starts his study, by saying: “Caring is giving hope. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to care for something if you couldn’t offer hope? … I am referring, however, to a specifically Christian hope: the assurance, based on God’s Word and character, that in every trial and difficulty help will come from God. Has He not promised that when ask, we shall receive; when we knock, the door shall be opened; when we seek, we shall find? Learn to share this message with Christians who are on the Way, and also with those who are hurting. …   Christian hope does not encourage us to deny reality, or slip into inactivity, or engage in wishful thinking. Christian hope rests on the fact that God is all-wise, all-knowing and all-compassionate.”

The hope we have is that we don’t have a relationship with a distant God who does not hear our cries for help. We have an an almighty God, who relates to us, as a perfect caring father – He is always there to help, even when we want to do things our own way – He catches us when we fall, all the time – never fails – that’s what we trust in – based on our faith in Jesus!

Do you agree?

Caring is being known

I think the most useful point Selwyn makes, is this: “As a listener, when you respond with empathy, what is the effect on the other person? They realise that you are listening to them with your full attention, and really trying to understand them. Such attentive caring is both a great compliment and a precious gift, because you are treating that person as important, and showing that they are worth your time.”

A better way to say ‘that they are worth your time’, is to say that by our actions that we, by following the example of Jesus, love them unconditionally. It’s not that they are worth our time, but they are loved by God – and he demonstrates His love though our actions: Our time is worth nothing if it is not lived for the glory of God!

What’s your view?

Caring is respect

I think today’s study is fairly straightforward, and summarised well by Selwyn: “respect means that we care for people too much to judge them, categorise them, label them or manipulate them. Instead, we spend time offering love, concern and a willingness to bear their burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Jesus.”

The verses, Paul’s letter to the Romans 12:9-21, set for reading and meditation are also very good. The freshness, which the New Living Translation gives to Paul’s words is one reason why I like this particular translation: “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.

Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.

Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.”

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.”

Don’t you think the world would be a very different place if we could feed, without hesitation, our hungry enemies? In a very real sense, all our enemies are hungry for God’s love – will you feed them?