Lately, I have been hearing from many who are really struggling with “life.” I mean, some of the tales I am hearing draw me into times of deep prayer. But sadly, while they are in the depth of distress, they become oblivious to anything else going on around them. All they feel is their own pain and frustrations. I remember reading Charles Swindoll’s book, “For Those Who Hurt,” and his number one recommendation for overcoming pain is to quit looking at yourself and start reaching out to comfort others.
It reminds me of Proverbs 11:25: “Anyone who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” Even Isaiah had some insight into this:
If you give some of your own food to feed those who are hungry
and to satisfy the needs of those who are humble,
then your light will rise in the dark,
and your darkness will become as bright as the noonday sun.
Yahweh will continually guide you
and satisfy you even in sun-baked places.
He will strengthen your bones.
You will become like a watered garden
and like a spring whose water does not stop flowing (Isaiah 58:10-11)
Let’s be honest and admit that it is so much easier to become engrossed in our own pain and ourselves. We try to analyze, understand and discuss our problems with everyone who will listen. With that in mind, there is an interesting tale that Elisabeth Elliot shares of her journey to Ecuador:
“We were two women and one man—he in shorts and rubber knee boots, we in standard jungle garb of blouses, skirts, and tennis shoes. As we plowed through the mud, some spiritual parallels came to mind.
“Every step of faith is a step of ‘faith.’ In some places, the logs were submerged in mud. Finding one to put your foot on did not make it easier to find the next one.
“Each step was a ‘decision,’ but to make it a ‘problem’ would have halted progress altogether. Sometimes the choice was to balance on a 3-inch-diameter log laid parallel to the path and take a chance of slipping off sideways and falling into the mud, or to step deliberately into mud (which was like peanut butter) up to one’s knees, or to try to beat one’s way through the tangle of the side at the trail (and of course that tangle could always hold snakes). You had to keep moving. Decisions, therefore, had to be snap decisions.
“If we had let each step be a problem, to be paused and pondered over, we’d still be there. If a decision turned out to be the wrong one, which it often seemed to be, you simply pulled yourself out and kept on . . .
“The trail—always leading us to our goal—took on various aspects. We were not always in mud up to our knees or trying to find footing on logs that were in some places submerged. For short spaces, the trail was gravel. Sometimes there were hills to climb and rivers to wade where we got the chance to rinse off a few pounds of jungle soil. At times we were in sunshine where the forest had been cut back to make pasture, at other times in deep shade.
“There was a tiny footprint in front of me. You learn when you travel jungle trails to recognize the differences in footprints. A party of Indians had evidently preceded us not long before. One of them was a child no more than three. As we came to what seemed to me impassable sections, I found myself spurred on by the knowledge that where the trail was firmer I would find the little footprint. Sure enough. That little person had made it through what was for him hip-high mud, across precarious logs, into the streams, up the hills and down the slick ravines. There is something amazingly heartening in the knowledge that somebody else has been over the course before—especially if it’s somebody who has had manifestly greater difficulties than ours to overcome. Most of the time there was no evidence at all of his going and I could lose heart. But here and there again the evidence lay, clear and unmistakable. If he had made it, so could I.”
I have had people say to me, “That’s great, Nickolas, but you don’t know what I’ve been through.” But it really doesn’t matter, my friend. In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he wrote: “My grace is sufficient for you.” It is sufficient against any danger or pain, or memory or illness, or weakness, or bad habit . . . “to enable you to bear the trouble manfully because my strength and power (which is his grace) are made perfect and shown most effective in your weakness” (paraphrase of the Amplified Version). What you are saying, in effect, is that your problem is bigger than His grace. If that is what you believe, you are going to have some real hard theological questions to answer.
As long as we are living a life of faith, we have to attend to the tasks at hand and live out our lives. Live it without contemplating what happened before, without worrying about the future and especially not regretting the way it is now. We cannot always see into heaven; we have to live on earth. Just keep moving steadily ahead, one foot in front of the other, regardless of whether it is the “log,” the “rock,” or the “mud” that receives it. The Bible does not speak of problems. As Corrie ten Boom says, “God has no problems, only plans.” Don’t think about the problems but of the purpose. Elisabeth Elliot’s advice is to “encounter the obstacle, make a choice—always with the goal in mind.”
She goes on:
“We are conditioned nowadays, however, to define everything as a problem . . . A group of young wives asked me to speak to them on ‘The Problems of Widowhood.’ I declined, explaining, in the first place, that I did not regard widowhood as a problem, and, in the second place, that if I did, I was not sure I had any warrant for unloading my own problems onto the shoulders of young women who had enough of their own, and in the third place, a widow has only one ‘problem,’ when it comes right down to it—she has no husband. And that’s something nobody can do anything about.
“Life is full of things we can’t do anything about, but which we are supposed to do something with. ‘He himself endured a cross and thought nothing of its shame because of the joy that was set before Him.’ A very different story from the one which would have been written if Jesus had been prompted by the spirit of our age: ‘Don’t just endure the cross—think about it, talk about it, share it, express your gut-level feelings, get in touch with yourself, find out who you are, define the problem, analyze it, get counseling, get the experts’ opinions, discuss solutions, work through it.’ Jesus endured it.”
Folks, we live in an evil world. Hurt, pain, loneliness, loss, death, deterioration are a part of it. There is a bumper sticker that has become very popular lately which, paraphrased for decency, reads: “Stuff Happens.” I don’t want to sound like a defeatist, but rather a realist. My question to you is how are you going to respond to the ‘natural course’ of this world? Are you going to rise above it? Don’t become defeated, realize that we are in a war zone and in this war, there are victors and there are casualties. There are no non-combatants. There are no innocent bystanders. We are to stand strong in the power of his might.
When it feels as though you are living on parched ground, unable to produce anything worthwhile; when you are in need of some refreshment, it won’t be easy to think of the needs of others. That is simply that doggone honest truth.
But, instead of going to the Lord for your own comfort and satisfaction, start asking Him to help you to give to others. Honest. When you are able to do this an amazing thing will happen — you will find your own needs wonderfully met! Refreshment will come in ways you would have never thought of, both for others and then, for yourself. Amazing how that works!
Go ahead and take some time on this:
Father, be like the dew to me today, as you were to Israel, so I may ‘blossom like the lily'” (Hosea 14:5)
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