To venable (verb): To randomly muse upon this and that.

Archive for the ‘Suffering’ Category

Pig-Head or Snowflake

Criticism comes in the normal course of life. Criticism comes in seeking to serve the Lord. There should be no surprise that if the master suffered criticism then won’t that be true of his servants as well? So we read in Matthew 10:24-25:

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.

But what do we do when criticism comes? Are we “pig-heads” or “snowflakes”?

Pig-Heads say “Stuff you with whatever you say, I am going to do it this way and if you don’t like it you will have to lump it.”

Snowflakes says “If you have said it, it must be right. I must do what you say straight-away. I will do whatever you say, yes sir, no sir; three bags full sir.”

So where do each of us sit with these responses. I suggest we are all somewhere on a spectrum here between pig-heads and snowflakes.

But how should we respond to criticism. I have written about how we should respond to a rebuke here. I post some further thoughts;

  • Always listen to what the person has to say. Seek calcification if necessary, but don’t pursue every detail ad nauseam.
  • Listen courteously and thank them for their observations which have very likely not been easy to deliver.
  • Consider what has been said and pray over it.
  • Seek advice and other counsel from those you trust.
  • Consider who has made the criticism and of what character, wisdom and maturity they are.
  • Respond and adopt the observations which you think are legitimate.
  • Reject those which you believe do not hold up.

Then move on with your life.  We need to embrace something of Paul’s attitude: But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.(Phil 3:13b-14).  Continually revisiting what has been said can keep you from the task in hand which is to serve God and be for Him.


We Know Where You Are?

Yesterday was a fine spring day in Feltham. Accordingly,given the clemency of the weather, we went for a walk in the late afternoon to the nearby disused running track. Later in the evening I saw a message on my phone saying: “How was Feltham Running Track?” Presumably, I had had my phone in my coat pocket and my location had been logged.

This all just alerted me to the fact that technology has made it so easy for us all to be traced. Similar experiences occur after a search has been made online to purchase a certain product. From this ensues the popping up on my screen, of all kinds of adverts for the product I had been searching for.

Now I do not want to get overly paranoid about these happenings, but it does provoke me to muse upon the amount of surveillance there is around. Through my online activity, use of mobile phone, bank/credit card use and car use so much data is available to the authorities about me, my movements, my interests and my activities.

Two thoughts arise:

  • I should be careful of my behaviour. Of course that should always be the case given that we are being watched by our all-seeing and all-knowing God. But, what of our living out of His grace in our lives? We should make sure that nothing could be recorded, with or without the knowledge of ourselves which would mar our testimony for the Lord.
  • With all this information available should the authorities turn hostile towards us as Christians (or for any other group for that matter), they could soon trace us and our activities and connections. Such leads on to some natural fear about what may be ahead. But we should be simultaneously reminded of how God knows all and watches over His people for their good.


Labouring Unto Joy.

Why are we expending mental and emotional energy as we lovingly engage ourselves in the lives of others with all tehir intricate and perplexing problems? More generally why are we going through difficulties in the service of Christ? It is easy to default to the thinking that we are called to suffering and that is how it is and we have to get on with it. But such an attitude can soon lead to the “martyr complex” which means that we glory in how much we are suffering.

Paul would not let us have this focus. His focus was on joy. So we see in 2 Corinthians 2:1-4 a little taste of Paul’s attitude to ministry. He is wanting the Corinthians to deal with the sin in their midst (see 1 Cor. 5:1-5). The fact that there is this sin in the church is causing him great distress. So we read in v4 For I wrote to you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you. And he only inflicts pain on the Corinthians because he wants the matter dealt with and so they can share joy. So we read of gladness (v2) and joy (v3).

Paul’s goal is joy. He wants sin dealt with in the church because there can never be joy when sin is around. And he will get distressed and seek to distress others so that sin is dealt with. But his goal is not the distress and the suffering. Rather, joy is his settled purpose.

Are we similarly set on this goal of labouring for joy? In all this we remember the ministry of our Saviour who went through the ultimate sin dealing with suffering so as to enter into the ultimate joy. Let us ponder upon the immense implications of how our Saviour Fixing our eyes on the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

Oh Lord please save me form a martyr complex and fix my being on labouring for joy and gladness.


Paul writes to the Philippians and speaks to them about believing and suffering. He says For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for him, (Phil 1:29)How do we respond to that scripture? We might say that believing is wonderful, but we’re not so sure about the suffering? We are so happy that the Lord grants us to believe, but are not so comfortable with being granted to suffer.

As we come to ponder upon this we note that it is not suffering because of being awkward or odd. Rather it is suffering for His sake. So when we take a stand for the gospel, and when we seek to honour Jesus Christ, then we can expect suffering.

Moreover, there is an inherent connection between exercising faith and suffering. We suffer because by faith we have entered another world. That heavenly world has different values. Accordingly this world does not like us standing in Christ (and with Christ) and so we suffer. We are in this present evil age, which is under the sway of the evil one, and this world is set against the beautiful ways of Jesus Christ. So as we affiliate with Jesus Christ by faith, we can expect the onslaughts of the evil realm. Faith brings suffering.

How is it then as regards to my situation and my experience of suffering? Our Lord says: Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets (Luke 6:26). A Christ-less life will be a comfortable life. A faithless life will be a comfortable life. But both end in death. Oh, for Christ, oh, for faith and when those are present with all the glorious things we possess thereby we will surely be happy to suffer with Him, in Him, and for Him.

Real Service

I read “The Joy of Service” by Julian Hardyman recently. It is available here. I feel it should be re-titled “Real Service”. Julian Hardyman is refreshingly honest about his weakness and the struggles of ministry.

It is a good easy-to-read book. It tells of a man whose character and ministry has been formed in the crucible of life. Well worth a read.

Where do our problems come from?

It is surely true that as believers in the LORD Jesus we are not exempt from the general problems of life. Difficult relationships, health problems, financial problems, unemployment, wayward children are all experienced by God’s people. When we have problems we often comment that Satan is tempting us or that this is a real test from the LORD. This leads us to ponder upon the origin of our problems. How can we know if something is resulting from the tempting of the evil one or the testing of the LORD? Where do our problems come from?

Biblical illustrations

The incident which above all others displays the workings of Satan to tempt a man to sin and disobey God is the temptation of our LORD Jesus. Clearly the temptings experienced by our LORD in that wilderness scene were from Satan. Mark says and he was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan (Mark 1:13a). However, it is interesting to see that Matthew says then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matt.4:1). Notice then that God had a purpose. Jesus did not just happen to end up in the wilderness and coincidentally Satan was there to tempt Him. Rather, the Holy Spirit of God sent Him there so that He could be tempted. We can say carefully that in the wilderness, by using the agency of Satan, the Father tested the Son to prove to all in heaven and on earth that this Jesus is conqueror of all; even Satan. Jesus resisted the devil and God was glorified thereby.

We learn then from the wilderness temptations of our LORD that in the problems of life God and Satan are both active. Satan is working to make us sin by turning us against God and His standards, whilst God is working to increase our faith by leading us to trust Him in the hard issues of life. This is the heart of the teaching we can glean from the experiences of Job. Satan was set on making Job curse God (see Job 2:5). Yet at the same time the LORD was specifically allowing Satan to “hit” Job so that the blamelessness of Job would be proven to all by Job’s continual trust in God. We might say that, God “won out” through Job retaining his trust in God. In the end this man of faith was richly blessed (see Job 42).

A further very interesting example of how we see God and Satan at work in the circumstances of life is found when David decides to number the nation of Israel. 2 Sam. 24:1 indicates that the LORD moved David to number the nation so as to judge His people. Whilst the parallel account in 1 Chron. states that Satan rose up against Israel, and incited David to take a census of Israel (1 Chron. 21:1). And so we ask the question: who was responsible for moving David to call the census? To which we answer both God and Satan were.

But who is in charge?

We conclude then that in the difficulties / problems of life, God and Satan are both at work, but with diametrically opposed agendas. Satan wants us to curse God, God wants us to trust Himself. The danger though, at this point is that we conclude that life operates amidst uncertainty about whether God or Satan will triumph. Such “dualist” teaching is wrong and completely mis-represents the Bible’s teaching. What we can say is that the circumstances of life always have two levels to them. There is the immediate and the ultimate. God is always ultimate. Our folly, Satan’s schemings, the decisions of others may all contribute to the immediate cause of our circumstances. However, behind the immediate there is always the ultimate and God is always working for the good of His people (see Rom. 8:28).

This leads us to assure our faith with the assertion that GOD IS IN CONTROL. He is not in a battle with the devil to work out who will triumph. He is the victor. The resurrection of our LORD Jesus is the most glorious example of this. Wicked men, inspired of Satan, drove Him to His death, but this was all according to God’s plan (see Acts 2:23). God raised Him up and in so doing rendered the evil one powerless in the matter of death (see Acts 2:24 and Heb. 2:14-15). God is both triumphant and in control.

Of all the biblical writers it is Isaiah who brings out the glory of our “ultimate” God who is triumphant and in control. To read Isaiah 45 and 46 is to get a flavour of the supreme authority of our God. Is. 45:7, for example, says: I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.’

What can we learn?

How do we work these things out in the day to day reality of life? Some theological understanding is found in James 1:12-14.v12 indicates that trusting God through the testings of life will lead to blessing in the form of the crown of life. This blessing probably cross references back to 1:2-3: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. On the other hand defying God and following temptation leads to sin which, in turn, leads to catastrophe; death. The critical issue then is not to sit around wondering where did this or that come from, but rather we should actively respond to the issues presented to us in life with faith in God.

Let us look at a practical example. A difficulty arises between yourself and another Christian in the church. How are you going to respond. The way of Satan through temptation is to say “I’ll never speak to that person again; I hate them!” This is to fall into Satan’s trap; he has led you away, there is division in the church and he gloats. Rather we should come before God in prayer, seek to implement God’s standards in His Word (Matt. 18:16-20 for example) and then through appropriate talking through the issue with the other person seek to restore the relationship. This is the way of faith. It is the way to get the blessing, the crown of life, from the testing.

It has been said that the tough matters of life either make you to be sweeter or more bitter. If we respond by faith and stick close by our God through the trial then there is greater godliness. Whereas if we turn against God and fall into the temptation that Satan has set then we become hardened against God.

The key issue then when troubles assail us is not deducing where they come from. Rather it is being wise as to how we respond. The spiritual health of our souls is at stake. The same trouble sweetens one, under God, and embitters another, under Satan. Which way will you go?

(Taken from Feltham Evangelical Church Newsletter of May 2007)

How do we pray about illness

We need to be careful and thoughtful about how we pray, and this includes when we are praying about the sicknesses and illnesses of ourselves and others. What so very often happens is that our prayers are formed with a mindset derived from the world around us rather from than the Word of God. We live in a world which is craving for “nice” lives full of lots of “nice” things. Everybody wants a decent about of money, little or no ill health and plenty of pleasures, and our prayers so very often reflect this way of worldly thinking. In view of this inclination, how should we pray and specifically how should we pray about ill health? In answering this question, we assert straight away that we go to the word of God for our guidance so that we can pray in a godly way.

There are three principles which should guide our praying and these should always be reflected in how we pray about sickness.

1)The Glory of God One of the most profound prayers in Scripture is found in John 12:28a. Here our Lord Jesus speaks to His Father and says Father, glorify your name!’ The fact that He, the most important person who ever lived, prayed this as He approached the most important event in the history of the world, His death, indicates the immensity of this prayer. In John 12:23-26 our LORD declares how he is facing the hour of His death. He thereby gives teaching for his followers flowing from that. In the light of his impending death and the trouble of soul He is experiencing we read these words in John 12:27 Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Of course the “worldly” prayer would be to pray to be delivered from suffering and death. However, our Lord operates according to a more elevated principle and that principle is always to desire that which is according to the will of God. The resulting prayer then is simply, but very profoundly Father, glorify your name!’ (John 12:28a). The response of the Father to hearing such a prayer shows His delight in hearing it. We read Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.’ (John 12:29b).

We can be sure that when a prayer is prayed from the heart which longs for God to be glorified, then such a prayer is delightfully received by our Father and acted upon by Him. We may not be sure how He will act to glorify His Name, but we know He will act. When someone is sick then, the first thing that should come to our minds as we turn to God in prayer is to seek that God would glorify His Name. His will being done as He glorifies His Name is more important than anything else. We need to be aware that the way the LORD works to glorify His Name is according to His agenda. He may work to honour His Name through continuing or even intensifying the illness. He may give healing or relief. That is His choice.

2) Spiritual growth The final words from Peter in the scriptures are that his readers would grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever! (2 Pet. 3:18). Spiritual growth is the key longing that Peter has and that is connected in with the desire that our Lord God who is Jesus would be glorified. In reading Paul’s prayers, this similar longing comes through. If you look at the prayers for the different groups of believers he writes to, such as those in Philippians 1:9-11, Colossians 1:9-14 and Ephesians 3:14-21. Paul’s focus in all these prayers is upon the believers coming to know God and grow in faith and good works. It is as if He says: “I don’t care what you have to go through I just long that you would be growing stronger in the Lord”. So this is our second motivation for our prayers when someone is sick. It is that through this experience they might grow to know God more.

David Powlison puts it like this ‘Is God interested in healing any particular illness? Sometimes, sometimes not. But is He always interested in making us wise, holy, trusting, and loving, even in the context of our pain, disability, and dying? Yes, yes again, and amen‘. This principle should again govern our prayers. God is more interested in our sanctification than our health. Our Father loves us too much to leave us to drift along in spiritual indifference and impotence. He will use all means to accomplish this purpose including sickness.

3) Care Prayer is a reflection of care. If you do not care about someone or a situation. then you will not pray. On the other hand when you pray for someone you want the best for them. That means you want the best for them in total and that includes their bodily well-being. John, writing to his dear friend Gaius says Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, just as you are progressing spiritually (3 John 2). Furthermore if you read I Kings 17 and 2 Kings 4 you will see both Elijah and Elisha pray passionately for two widows’ sons to be healed. The Lord graciously granted restoration in both cases. We need to remember when we pray that we are praying to “Our Father”. We are speaking to the best Father who is the most caring being in the universe and He wants the best for His children. So as we care for people we are led to pray, and we pray to the ONE who perfectly cares.

So we conclude by asking the question when you next hear of an illness or suffering how will you respond in prayer? Will you immediately pray “Lord make them better”? Or will you stop and ponder upon the fact that the LORD has a bigger agenda than ours? So here is a prayer to pray when we hear that a brother in the church has cancer. Oh Loving Father, You know how much brother x means to us and we long for his releasing from this terrible disease. However, we submit to your will and pray that you will glorify your Name through this affliction that has come upon our brother, and use it to do good for him that he would grow in You and be stronger in Your grace as a result. Amen

(Taken from the Feltham Evangelical Church Newsletter of April 2015)

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