Guest blog: Prayer when life is not all sunshine and cotton candy
Copyright by Rodger Moore. (The following prayer is shared, with his permission, from the coordinator of the pastoral care department at the hospital where we both serve as chaplains.)
Lord, sunshine, cotton candy, joy and happiness are not always the paths of life. There are also those moments of shadows, sorrow, grief and indecision. Regardless of the path which my journey may be taking in these moments may I be reminded of your presence and words:
• Be still,
• Slow down,
• Peace Be Still,
• You are not alone,
• I am with you,
• Come to me,
• Joy comes in the morning
As the Shepherd, protect, look out over me and provide for me;
As the Light of the World illumine my path and bring guidance to my heart;
As the Comforter envelop me in your arms and warm my heart;
As the Physician reach out to touch my mind, body and spirit bringing wholeness and healing.
In all moments of life bring your peace, calmness, serenity and trust. Amen.
David was the “comeback kid”
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
In the Hebrew scriptures, Abraham may have been the father of faith, and Moses the giver of the law, but David was the “comeback kid.” Look at all the times David made a comeback:
David overcame his size (1 Samuel 16). He was the youngest son of Jesse, yet the prophet Samuel chose to anoint him as the next king.
David overcame his giant (1 Samuel 17). He faced down the giant Goliath when others fled, and won!
David overcame his defeat (1 Samuel 30). When the Amalekites raided his camp and kidnapped his wives, David’s men were ready to kill him. But David found strength in the Lord, and led his men to victory, recovering his family and all that had been taken from them.
David overcame his sin (1 Samuel 11-12). He abused his power to exploit the beautiful Bathsheba, then ordered her husband put on the front lines to die. Yet when confronted by the prophet Nathan for his adultery and murder, David confessed his sin, repented, and experienced the grace of God’s forgiveness.
David overcame his sorrow (1 Samuel 12). Despite his repentance, David suffered the consequences of his sin in the death of his infant child. Yet when he realized the child had died, David rose from his grief and worshiped his God.
David overcame a rebellion (1 Samuel 15-17). His own son Absalom led a revolt against the king, but David was able to win the battle and retake his throne.
David overcame his pride (1 Samuel 24). Proud of his mighty army, he took a census of his troops. This brought on the judgment of God, but again David humbled himself and was forgiven.
Are you despairing, distressed, defiled and defeated? Like David, find your strength in God. His grace can give you a comeback, too!
Why does God allow suffering?
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
A hurricane destroys a city. A young mother dies of cancer. A man succumbs to depression and takes his life. When tragedies like this happen, the inevitable question is, “Why?” Amazingly, Jesus Christ asked the same question as he was dying upon the cross, crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34) It is in that very question of Jesus that we can find helpful answers.
He absorbed our evil by His love. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they unleashed a Pandora’s Box of evil that impacts us to this day. But upon the cross, Jesus absorbed that evil, by lovingly sacrificing Himself. The apostle Paul put it this way: “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus Himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that He lay down His life for His friends” (John 15:13).
He empowered us to overcome evil by faith. Jesus’ sacrifice inspires us to identify with Christ by faith, and moves us to action ourselves. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Thus Paul says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
He heals the hurt of evil by giving hope. The greatest medicine for healing is not penicillin or aspirin– it’s hope. During World War II, psychologist Viktor Frankl studied the lives of people who survived Nazi concentration camps, and found the survivors were those who had hope. The Bible says, “For in hope we have been saved” (Romans 8:24); “This hope we have as an anchor for the soul” (Hebrews 6:19); “because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Colossians 1:5).
Louie Zamperini was an American aircraft gunman in World War II, whose plane crashed in the Pacific Ocean. He and his friends floated across the ocean for a month, losing half of their body weight and nearly going insane, only to be captured by the Japanese. Because Zamperini had been a famous Olympic runner, the Japanese treated him with particular cruelty, beating him mercilessly. His story was made famous in the 2014 movie, Unbroken. But Hollywood only hinted at the rest of the story. After his return from war, Louie Zamperini suffered so much post-traumatic stress that he fell into despair and addiction. Then a young preacher named Billy Graham held a revival in his home in Los Angeles. At the urging of his wife, Louie went. Graham stood and asked, “Why is God silent when good men suffer?” He reminded the audience that God sends us messages through creation and through Christ that He cares for us. Zamperini remembered seeing a swirl of light in the sky when he was floating across the Pacific, awed by God’s creation. He listened as Graham talked about the good news of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sin, and that day, Zamperini found hope in Christ. For the rest of his life, Louie Zamperini followed Christ. He founded a ranch to offer hope to troubled boys, and he even traveled to Japan to forgive his prison captain.
Louie Zamperini found the answer to “Why” in the loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ. So can you and I.
How do I deal with the suicide of someone I love?
Article copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” — Romans 8:31,35, 37-39 (ESV)
Why did he or she commit suicide? Could I have done something to prevent it? Most of us have asked these questions when someone we love has committed suicide. While there are no easy answers, the Bible gives us help in this time of grief.
Let me suggest several truths that can help.
1) Guard against being judgmental.
This is not a time to judge the friends, family, and certainly not a time to judge the one who took his or her life. No one knows the pressures or problems another person faces. Jesus taught us, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” (Matthew 7:1, KJV) It will not help to judge others, nor to judge yourself.
You may have repeated the word “if.” If only I (or someone else) had said something or done something different, perhaps she or he would not have taken that precious life. Martha used the word “if.” In John 11, Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus was dying and they sent for Jesus to heal him, but Lazarus died before Jesus arrived. In John 11:21, “Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.'” But “if” is about the past. “If” cannot bring the loved one back, and it will not help us in the present.
Instead of asking “why?” or wondering “if,” we need to ask “what.” What can I do now? Jesus told Martha what she needed: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25, ESV)
So instead of asking, “why,” let’s ask “what.” What can we do to be better because of this?
2) Hold on to our hope in Christ.
There is no point in ignoring the elephant in the room. So let’s address the matter directly. Is suicide a sin? Yes, it is. Is suicide the unpardonable sin? No, it is not. There are so many reasons why we should not take our own lives, which I will discuss in a moment, but the Bible does not teach that suicide cannot be forgiven. Mark 3:28-30 says that all sins can be forgiven, except for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit refers to rejecting the Spirit’s call on us to follow Christ; this is not referring to taking one’s own life.
Our salvation is not based on the way we die, but based on the One who died for us.
3) God brings good out of the bad.
When Jesus died on the cross, the disciples thought their world had come to an end, and Jesus had been defeated. But instead, God was using it to forgive our sins, and then God raised Jesus from the dead to pave the way for us to have eternal life. God is in the business of bringing good out of bad!
Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Jesus Christ is the permanent solution who makes our problems temporary!
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but he things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV)
4) Let’s examine our own lives.
Life is a gift. We should not waste our lives by suddenly taking it, or by wasting it slowly by degrees, with meaningless living. Make your days count. Hug your children. Hug your parents. Say, “I love you.” Listen to one another. Reach out for help when you are in despair. Talk about your problems. We have a choice to be bitter or better because of this. If we can draw closer together as a community and with our families, we can be better.
Storms will come in our lives, but those who withstand are those who have strong roots. Years ago, a powerful storm blew down an oak tree in front of the youth center at the church where I was pastor. It crushed the roof and did major damage. Thankfully, it happened at night when nobody was inside. The reason it happened was that tree did not have deep roots. A tree that has deep roots can withstand a bigger storm.
The way you get deep roots is by a personal relationships with Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. As you grow in your relationship with Him by faith, your roots get deeper and deeper, and you are more able to stand against the storms of life.
We will never understand all of the reasons why there is tragedy in life, but if we are rooted in Christ, we can hold on despite the tragedies we face.
The contemporary Christian group, 4Him, wrote a song about the tragic death of a friend, saying,
“When the reasons aren’t clear to me
When it all is a mystery
I want to know why.
And though down here I may not understand
I won’t let go of the Unseen Hand
For it holds the reasons why.”
Hold on to that Unseen Hand, my friend. He will be there for you.
The wonder of the Christ child
Article copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
Barbara Robinson writes in her book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, about a Sunday School Christmas pageant. One child heard from Isaiah 9:6 that the Christ child’s name would be “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Wide-eyed, she responded, “He’d never get out of the first grade if he had to write all that.”
Perhaps we need to return to this familiar prophetic title with the same wonder of a child. We will see:
As Wonderful Counselor, Christ takes away our gloom.
As Mighty God, Christ takes away our doom.
As Everlasting Father, Christ adopts us all.
As Prince of Peace, Christ takes down the wall.
In the verses before Isaiah 9:6, we see how meaningful this really is…
I. Wonderful Counselor takes away our gloom
Isaiah 9:1 says “the gloom of the distressed will not be like that of the former times.” In this world, we often live in gloom and sorrow, but Christ takes it away. Our Wonderful Counselor listens with compassion, helps us see matters in a new light, confronts us with the truth, and guides us in the right way.
II. Mighty God takes away our doom
Isaiah 9:2 says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Because of our sin, we are living in the land of death, headed to a sinner’s hell. But the Christ child is more than a sweet baby; He is God in flesh, and able to save us from our sins by His sacrifice on the cross. He came to earth, so that we may go to heaven.
III. Everlasting Father adopts us all
Isaiah 9:4 speaks of the oppression and burdens of the people, who have no one to protect them. But God is a good Father, and His Son Jesus has come to adopt us all. When I say, “adopts us all,” I don’t mean to imply universal salvation; I’m speaking poetically of all who trust the blood of Christ, and then are adopted into God’s family, as if we were blood brothers and sisters. “I will not leave you as orphans,” Jesus promised in John 14:18.
IV. Prince of Peace takes down the wall
Isaiah 9:5 speaks of the blood of war, from which Christ came to bring peace. He takes down the wall of sin (Isaiah 59:2), so that nothing separates us from God (Romans 8:38-39). He takes down the wall that separates us from our brothers and sisters in Christ: “For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).
When missionary Don Richardson was trying to explain the gospel to a remote tribe, they could not understand the incarnation of God in flesh or the atonement of Christ upon the cross. But then he learned that when tribes wanted to make peace, they would exchange children to grow up in the other tribe. That was it! He explained that Jesus is our “Peace Child,” the Son of God, born as a Son of Man to make peace through His flesh.
Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah’s birth long ago. As you celebrate His birth, you can also be born again by faith (John 3:3). Have you?
Surprised by Joy
Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers
Christian writer C.S. Lewis famously described his salvation experience as being “surprised by joy.” Joy is one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22– and it is surprising how joy comes. Notice these three examples from the Bible:
*Joyful surprise of forgiveness from sin. When we are convicted of sin, we usually feel shame and may even experience depression. Yet confession of sin and God’s forgiveness brings the surprising result of joy. After David’s confession of the sin of adultery with Bathsheba, he cried out to God in Psalm 51:12, “Restore the joy of Your salvation to me.” God answered that prayer, for in Psalm 32 he exclaims, “How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven… How joyful is the man the LORD does not charge with sin…” (Psalm 32:1-2, HCSB).
*Joyful surprise during trials. When we suffer trials, we may experience stress, anxiety and worry. Yet James says that God uses trials to produce a godly endurance and maturity, which once again is a surprising reason for joy. “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow” (James 1:2-3, NLT).
*Joyful surprise of strength in the midst of grief. How can we experience joy in the midst of grief? Isn’t grief the opposite of joy? After the Jews returned to Jerusalem from exile, Ezra the scribe gathered all the people in the public square and read the law of Moses to the people and explained it to them. The people began to weep, grieved over their ignorant disobedience of God’s word. But the priests urged them to celebrate instead of weep. Why? They said, “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10, NASB). It is natural to grieve when we experience loss in our lives, but when we take a look in faith at the big picture, we draw strength from the LORD, who is our Savior. As the apostle Paul says in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.”
So my brothers and sisters, has life got you down? Are you ashamed and grieving over your past, and anxious and hurting in the present? Then look in faith to the wonderful future you have in Christ. Surprise! The joy of the Lord is your strength.
(If you see a video ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.)
How to pray in times of distress
Psalm 102 teaches us how to pray when we are in distress.
It was written by someone who suffered through the exile in Babylon, but it applies to anybody in suffering. Like the changing weather, this psalm expresses the psalmist’s changing mood. Open your Bible to the psalm and follow this prayer outline:
1) Clouds gather (v. 1-2). He first cries out to God. “Lord, hear my prayer…Do not hide Your face from me in my day of trouble…”
2) Gloom and darkness (v. 3-11). Next, he describes his suffering: heartache (v. 4), he can’t eat (v. 4), he loses weight (v. 5), he is lonely (v. 6). he can’t sleep (v. 7), he suffers abuse (v. 8), he weeps (v. 9), and he suffers because of his sin (v. 10). Thus he says, “My days are like a lengthening shadow.” (v. 11). But the clouds part and the sun shines in.
3) Sunshine (v. 12-22). A ray of future hope from the Lord shines in his heart, and he sees that he will see the ruins of Zion and rebuild Jerusalem, or at least the future generations will see it.
4) Clouds return (v. 23-24). But as he waits for the fulfillment of his future hope, the clouds of doubt return briefly. Can’t we all relate to that?
5) Eternal light (v. 25-28). Finally the psalm ends with a statement of faith in the eternal light of God, for even when the earth wears out like clothing, “You are the same, and Your years will never end.” (v. 27). This part of the psalm is quoted in Hebrews 1:10-12 as a prophecy of Jesus Christ. This reminds us that our ultimate light and hope for our distress comes when we trust in Jesus.
Gethsemane teaches us how to express our emotions
Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers
There was an event in the life of Jesus Christ that can show us how to express our emotions. After His last supper with His disciples, just before Jesus went to the cross, the Gospels record that He went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Mark 14:33 records that Jesus was “deeply distressed and troubled.” Verse 34 records that He said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” When He went to pray, He staggered to the ground. Luke 22:44 says as He prayed, He sweat great drops like blood. He was in incredible agony as He faced dying on the cross for the sins of the world. Jesus expresses extreme emotion in this passage, and He also models for us how to express our own emotion.
Jesus does not hide His emotion. Some people, especially men, try to suppress their emotions. We are told that “big boys don’t cry” and so when we get upset, we try to keep it under control. Especially when we experience the death of a loved one, witness something traumatic, and get very bad news, we often try to cope with it by containing our emotions. Some people suppress emotions by avoiding the subject, others joke around and watch happy movies and comedies on TV, while others turn to alcohol or narcotics. The problem is, that the emotion is still there. If you push it down when it tries to rise to the top, guess what? Your emotion stays deep inside you, and continues to do damage to you. You may develop depression, or physical sickness, and you may suddenly erupt with anger at the slightest thing.
So what should we do? We cannot ignore our emotions. We need to find healthy ways to express them. You will notice that Jesus went to a Gethsemane with only three of His disciples. It was there, in a quiet place with a small group of friends, that He told them of His emotional pain. Then, He went farther from them to pour out His heart in prayer to God.
This is a healthy pattern for us to follow. Find a quiet place, and at the right time, open yourself up to trusted friends, and let them know about your pain. Then you may need to weep over the matter alone. Crying can be an incredibly helpful release, particularly when it is done in private, where we have no inhibitions about who is watching us.
Don’t bottle up your emotions. Jesus was a man’s man, a carpenter who not only nailed nails but was able to take the nails for you and me. Yet He expressed His emotions when He was overwhelmed with sorrow. So can we.