Looking For The Good When Bad Things Happen

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Can Good Come From Bad?

This is an age old question.  And in many ways, it is a question that tries to understand the nature of God.  As people often have said, “If God is a loving God, how can there be so much evil and pain in the world?”  Personally, I think this is the wrong question to be asking.  I recognize that not everyone who believes there is a God, which is the first question to deal with, will accept that the Bible of the Jews and Christians is the “Word of God”.

But that is my starting point.  And for a number of good reasons.  But this article cannot deal with that question either, as there would not be enough space here to expand on this belief.   This article then is written primarily for Christians who share my belief in God and in the Bible as God’s Word to mankind.  But just because we have these strong beliefs in the Divine and the Almighty does not mean that we will never experience bad things in life.  Nor does it mean that we will always understand why we experience suffering and pain.  Yet I believe that we still have much more to guide us and help us deal with the heartaches of life than many people.

    

I raise these questions today because of the recent experiences that I just went through.  I was in Papua New Guinea serving the Lord doing the ministry of Bible translation for people groups that do not have the Bible in their language.  Next thing I know, I’m being told that I have a retinal tear in my right eye and I am boarding planes to come back to Canada to get this fixed.  You can read about my experiences in the article “God, Help Me Overcome My Unbelief“.

It would be so easy to turn around and say to God, “Why me?  Can’t you see I’m giving my life to serve you over here in PNG?”.  But I’ve always thought of that question as being a self-centered and self-absorbed question.  As if the universe (or the Almighty) is supposed to bow down to our own personal likes and needs.  Sometimes I do catch myself though asking the question of “Why now, Lord?”  But this too I think reflects some level of lack of faith.  If God really is God, then He knows what is going to happen, and so events in life never catch him by surprise.  And if we really have faith in Him, then we too should not act surprised.

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I believe that the best question we should be asking when bad things happen to us is this one, “What now Lord?”  In other words, we ask God, given the current circumstance that we are in, what is it that we can and should do in the situation.  Sometimes God will reveal to us that there really is nothing we can do, except to hold on even stronger to our faith that He will work things out.  And to believe that good can and will come out of this bad situation.  Romans 8:28 says:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose.

I also believe that there are many times when we are to take action within these new circumstances, under God’s guidance of course.  In other words, to respond according to the spirit, not according to our natural earthly desires and behaviors.  Our natural inclination when something bad happens might be to get angry, or to take things out on another person.  Our supernatural response though is to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  (1 Thess. 5:18)

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This is much more that just being an optimist, or trying to be a “half full glass” kind of person.  Even as we give thanks to God, acknowledging Him as our Lord through tough situations, we ask the question of “What now Lord?”  We want to be proactive and to ask God to help us make the most of the situation.  This is what is called “Redeeming the Time.”  To “redeem” means “to rescue; to buy back”, and so when we redeem the time, we are taking back the situation and by God’s strength and direction we are making and finding ways to allow good things to happen.

You see, I believe that a life of faith is a partnership between a person and God, and both sides have their part to play.  And that is how I approached the situation with my recent eye surgeries.  (Yes, plural, as I needed three surgeries.)  I actively trusted God to take care of me, and He did so in some amazing ways.  But I also have actively been seeking how to make the most of the time I now have been given to be back home.

And what have I done?  I have been actively seeking ways to be with my family and do things together that would not have been possible if I was still in PNG.  I have been in meetings in our international office in Dallas, and having conversations with young aspiring missionaries.  These have been precious moments that couldn’t have taken place while I was in PNG.  And I am reconnecting with my home churches as well as some potential new supporting churches.  And so this time off of the field for me has been one of seeking and finding great opportunities to see good things come about.

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You need to ask the question then: “How do you respond when bad things happen to you?”  Is your focus upon yourself, and your sense of pain that the situation may be causing you?  Or are you putting your focus upon God who will not only guide you through the tough times in life, but will provide great opportunities to see some good come out of the situation.  It is a choice.  What are you going to choose?

Praise God

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Make Your Life A Testimony – Pt 2

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Impacting Others for Christ

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.            (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

It has been said that there is nothing more powerful that a personal testimony concerning something extraordinary that has happened to a very ordinary person.  This is the last article I will write on the book written by Mark Atteberry, “Walking With God on the Road You Never Wanted to Travel“.

On page 176, Atteberry writes:

The great value of a true story is that it places a finger under the hard-road traveler’s chin and gently pushes up.  Unlike fiction, it forces the person to ask, “Could God do something like that for me?”

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We tend to put so many others up on pedestals, like sports heroes, movie stars, gifted speakers, etc.  So many of us feel like we have very little to offer to other people.  But the Scripture I quoted at the top of this article says otherwise.

I think it would be fair to say that every person who has ever lived has encountered difficulties and painful experiences.  That is simply part of being human.  What is also true for those who believe in God is that many of us can tell stories about how God came through for us and brought us through those difficult moments.

And it is these stories, these testimonies, that Atteberry says we all need to share with those who are around us.  Rephrasing the Scripture above, God is a God of great compassion who helps us in our times of greatest need, and that often, He allows these difficult times to come in order that we can then in turn help others who are now going through what we just came through.

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In his book, Atteberry anticipates that some people will shy away from the idea that God could ever use them and their situation to be of help to anyone else.  He expands on three possible objections that someone might give for  not sharing their life stories and experiences with others:

  • I’m not a great communicator.
  • I have no platform from which to share.
  • My story isn’t dramatic enough.

Some of these statements may actually have some truth in them.  Moses was someone who stuttered.  The widow who gave her last pennies at the Temple as Jesus watched probably never thought she would be important.  I was never a drug user who “saw the light” and came to believe in Jesus.  (Why do we always use the example of drug users.)

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But all of these objections (and more) have missed the point.  It is not the quantity of what we do in life that is most important, but the quality of whatever we do, no matter how small that might look to us.  I like Atteberry’s comment on page 177:

The big thing to remember is that your testimony is simply your story.  It doesn’t have to be a sermon.  It doesn’t have to be theological.  It doesn’t have to answer all the difficult questions people might feel inclined to ask.  All it has to do is show how the Lord helped you as you walked with Him along your hard road.

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It has been just a little more than a year ago when I started writing articles on this blog site.  I had the choice at the beginning to use my site as a venue by which I could whine and complain about all the pain I suffer with my muscle disease, and how hard life is for me.  I could view my world as having shrunk down to sitting in my sofa recliner day after day within the confines of my living room and apartment.

But God challenged me to view my struggles as an opportunity to reach out to other hurting people.  Very quickly I saw that by means of my internet connection, I could potentially reach thousands of people with my stories of what God has done in my life in the past, and is still doing through me today as I take one day at a time by faith.

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In fact, as you look at the visitor counter, you can see that there really have been thousands of people who find it worthwhile to visit and read the articles that I write.  But as soon as I say that, I have to figuratively knock myself on the side of the head and remind myself that I am not writing for the thousands, I am writing for the one person who really needed to hear the word of encouragement that I offer in a given article.

Atteberry goes on to say:

The best way to measure the value of a testimony is not by the size of its audience, but by the impact it has on the people who hear it. If your story helps even one person stay faithful to the Lord — or perhaps return to the Lord — then it has had an eternal impact.

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And this is where we conclude our study of this book.  I really hope though that these “Hard-Road Journey” articles have been more than just a book study.  I pray that we have been able to walk along side of each other and be encouraged in our faith and walk with the Lord because we’ve gone on this journey together.

I am amazed and thrilled that God has used me in this last year to impact others.  All I’ve done though is to be open and honest and share “my story”.  Even if you never go public like I have, I’m going to promise you that if you are open and honest with others around you, then God will use “your story” to also be a blessing to someone else who really needed to hear what you have to say.  May God bless you as you do this for Him.

God Provides Oases – Part 1

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Have you been in that place where you say to God, “Enough Lord!  I don’t think I can take any more of this?”  You feel like the hard-road journey you are on is never going to end.  It can take many forms: financial pressures, bad relationships, chronic health issues, or any number of other stressors that seem to be an endless painful journey.

Now normally I do not like to pass on silly sayings, but it is kind of cute when someone says, “Do you know what are the most encouraging words in Scripture?  They are, ‘And it came to pass.’  That means that bad times will not stay with us; they come, and then they will pass on by.'”  I wish it were that easy to say that if we just wait a short while, everything will get better.  In fact, things may stay bad, or even get worse, for a much longer period of time.

But don’t let this get you super discouraged or depressed, for even during the worst periods of our lives there will be moments of great joy and periods of relief from the things that press down on us.  Our author that we are following, Mark Atteberry, who wrote “Walking With God on the Road You Never Wanted to Travel“, has some wise words to say, and then gives us some very good points to talk about in Chapter 8.

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Consider this quote on page 99:

Maybe you’re just getting started on your hard road and you’re deeply discouraged.  Perhaps your first steps have been agonizingly difficult and you feel you’re not going to be able to endure.  Well, cheer up!  Every desert has some oases, and sooner or later you’re going to come to one.  It’s true!  Even on the hardest roads, there are wonderful pleasures to be found.

Atteberry goes on in the rest of this chapter to explain that there are at least four excellent sources from which we can draw upon and be refreshed.  I will reflect on two of these sources in this article, and then two weeks from now I will reflect on the other two sources of encouragement and spiritual refreshment.

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1.  “Refreshing Seasons”.  It is very normal for most people to talk about the weather.  Even if the person is a complete stranger, it is not unusual to make casual comments like “Looks like it’s going to rain again,” or to say, “Man, it sure is cold today!  I just about froze my fingers off walking out there today!”  And if after a long period of such bad weather we finally get a good change, like the sun shining  in the midst of a clear blue sky, or a warm wind coming to break the cold spell, then we feel such a sense of relief.  Even if it is only for one day, that good weather is enough to help us go forward and to continue enduring the bad weather.

I think it was kind of like that when our older boy, Eric, went through his cancer journey.  That first year of the aggressive drugs he took to battle against the leukemia seemed to stretch on forever for us.  Week after week he endured his chemotherapy, and there were a few times when we were very worried for him, and with good reason.  We did make it to the end of the aggressive year, and continued on with other regular but milder drugs for another 18 months.

It certainly was a difficult road for every one in the family.  But God was good, and He provided some wonderful refreshing moments throughout the 30 months of treatment.  Eric was chosen as a cancer “spokes’ kid” for one year and had a blast meeting famous athletes, radio announcers and got a special private dress rehearsal concert with his favorite Christian rock band.  These islands of pleasurable and memorable experiences made the hard-road journey more bearable for all of us.  Thank you God.

2.  “Refreshing Servants”.  There is a little spot in northern Ontario (Canada) that may not be on every road map, but one spot that Jill and I will never forget.  It’s called Agawa Bay.  I mentioned in another article about how sick I was in Ontario in 1989, and this prompted us to leave Toronto in January to pull a U-haul 3,300 kilometers across Canada while Jill was 6 months pregnant and I was lying on a mattress in the back of our station wagon.  (Read that story here.)

When we got to Agawa Bay, after fighting our way through a Canadian blizzard and snow squall conditions, we stopped to get a bite to eat and to gas up as there would be no more restaurant or gas station for at least 150 more miles.  We went to start the car, and the battery was dead.  But even if we could go, the Mounted Police just put up a barricade to stop traffic from entering deeper into the forest wilderness of northern Ontario.

So what were we to do in this little place that had only a restaurant, a gas station and garage, and a couple of houses for staff to sleep in.  And a dead car.  We needed a miracle, and He sent us a refreshing “servant-hearted man”.  The car mechanic on duty heard about our dead car, and that the road was closed.  So he helped us push the car into the garage and hoisted it up and started working on it.

He figured that with the roads closed and nowhere to go, he might at well make himself useful.  So through half the night he fixed our battery engine problem and also found that our timing belt at the back of the engine was actually half chewed through and worn down.  If we had continued past Agawa Gay, there would have been a good chance we would have broken down literally in the middle of nowhere.

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So what is the point of these two stories?  Namely this:  life is full of difficulties that can seem endless and may go from bad to worse.  But if we have the eyes to see it and discern it, we will often notice how God actually was there with us through the difficulties and in one way or another, He provided a short season or a person with a servant heart to bless us and to give us refreshment so that we can carry on down our hard-road journey.

Persevering With God’s Help

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The following devotion comes from my friend, Pastor Jim

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I am sitting at the desk in the office when the noise makes me jump. I should be used to the familiar “pop” on the window, but I am not. Another bird has collided with the window glass.  I wonder what it must be like to be flying along and all of a sudden the world ahead of you slaps you in the face.  It looks like the path ahead is clear, but just when we begin to think it is smooth sailing, “POP”!  We are knocked to the ground.

I do not have to wonder very long before I realize that so many of us know what that experience is like.  As Christians, we often face trials, but as James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

These trials may be tests of God, the work of Satan, or just life. These have the potential to make us better individuals.  We add fertilizer to our fields and gardens so we may yield a better product. Our suffering is like fertilizer – it feels horrible, smells terrible, and we cannot wait to wash it off.  [NW – as a city person, this sounds disgusting, but I know from talking to farmers and those who grow plants and small back yard gardens, that this is true.] 

I remember the very first time I sat on top of a horse.  I was in second grade and needed my dad’s help climbing into the saddle.  Her name has escaped my memory, but I remember she was beautiful and, in the mind of a young boy, she was huge.  I sat in wide-eyed wonderment as she took a couple of steps.  I was unsure of my place in the saddle, but then she took a couple more gentle steps and the thrill of riding hit me.  I have not had another opportunity to ride since that summer, but the memories of it are still in the forefront of my mind.

The term meek has been a difficult word for me to grasp, but I can now relate it to a broken horse; power and strong will that are directed for a purpose.  When we face stressors and crises, we do not have to feel like we are alone and spiraling out of control as we attempt to fight our situation using only our own strength.  When we are meek, we realize that God is in control.

When we humbly decide to take our place in His plan, then we too will be placed among the meek.  We can be pillars of example to the world as we overcome our difficulties by the grace of God, and not our own strength.  These words are easier to write than live.  I pray my will and strength are like that gentle horse I rode as a child.  May I be meek, focused, and reliant on God.

As we grab a hold of the reins of Christianity, we cannot help but realize we do not always understand God.  How can we?  As finite beings, we are nothing compared to His infinity.  If we can remember to simply pray that we do not lose any of the benefits of our trials, then we will grow.  We will become better apprentices of Christ with a better grasp on the reality of our station in life.  But, equally as important, we will become better examples to the world.

Sympathy and empathy are powerful tools to be used to nurture others.  If we do not persevere through our suffering, not only do we lose out on an opportunity for growth, but so do the people around us.  When I pray for others, I ask above all else that God be glorified through the situation.  May His will not be lost as He carries us through our trials.  May we recognize the situation as belonging to Him – being under His magnificent power – and use it for His glory and honor.

One of God’s many ministers,

Jim

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In this devotional thought, Jim provides us with two very good illustrations.  What I gained from this was that our lives can be hardened and unproductive (or meaningless) unless we allow the Farmer (whom I take to be God) to break up the hardened soil, and even allow Him to use the difficulties and trials of life to be sprinkled (fertilized) into our lives, so that our lives will be able to produce a harvest of good fruit.

The second illustration talks about us riding through life, as on the back of a horse.  If we try to pull hard on the reins of our lives, or try to force our animal (our lives) to be directed by our own brute force, we are more than likely to end up galloping off in the wrong direction, or worse, we are dumped onto the ground and our lives end up quite ruined and possibly seriously injured.

No, what we must do is to give the reins of our lives over to Jesus, submit to His Lordship, and He will tame the wild animal of life that we ride on and through His power and divine direction and providence, we find ourselves being led to the place of security, rest and spiritual nutrition.  As Jim mentions above, that takes a spirit of true humility, meekness and trust.  But know this, our God will never fail to give us what we need, if we entrust ourselves wholly to Him.

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How To Stay Positive – Pt 2

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Hard Road Journey – Part 8

This article will conclude chapter four of Mark Atteberry’s book “Walking With God on the Road You Never Wanted to Travel“.  And the theme of that chapter is “Stay Positive”.  It was last December that I read this book and immediately I knew that there were some powerful messages in this book that I needed to hear, for I had been on a hard road journey for quite some time.

As you may know, it was November that I started this blog writing, partly to reflect on life, partly as a therapeutic activity for myself, and soon after I started, it became a means to reach out and try to minister to others.  I wonder about the people who read these articles if some or many may also be walking on a hard road journey.

So this article marks the end of four months of looking into this book.  Are you walking a difficult road right now?  Has life gotten any better or easier to bear in these four months?  Have things gotten worse?  (I sure hope not, but I do realize that is quite possible.)  If you have been going through a difficult time for these four months, or longer, you may well be asking, “How can I ever stay positive in these circumstances?”  Let me summarize three main points that Atteberry offers to us all.

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First of all, things could be worse.  That sounds so trite, but it is also very true.  Now I will not try to do what I think many mothers do when they say to their children, “Think about all those starving children over there in Africa.”  (That statement usually comes out when our kids don’t want to eat their vegetables, or some new strange-looking casserole for dinner.)

Actually, we tried that one time with one of our sons when we lived in our remote village in Papua New Guinea and the boys were elementary school age.  Jill had worked hard getting supper ready, but our one son didn’t want to eat it.  So Jill used that famous line, except she said, “Think of the children starving in this village.”  So our son got the bright idea of getting up, going out the door, putting his plate of food on the landing, and came back inside.  A few minutes later, as we watched with open mouths, he went and got his plate and indeed, it was empty.  There were starving children outside.

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No, what I’m thinking of is when life seems to crash in upon us and we think we’ve hit the bottom, what do we do?  In the two years of mid ’87 through mid ’89, we thought things were bad, and they just kept getting worse.  I mentioned a few in the last article: losing a child, packing and moving multiple times with Jill’s next pregnancy, my critical illness, feeling almost bankrupt, and another illness that kept me in bed for a 6 month period.

We had every reason to think negatively, and to think to ourselves, “Will we ever reach the bottom of these disasters and crises?”  But it is exactly at this point that we needed to look at what we had, and not at what we had lost to keep us sane.  We had each other, we were blessed with our first-born son, we had my parents take us in a few times into their home, we did find employment and some other income.  And we had God with us and many caring Christian friends and church people to love us.  By many standards, we were very blessed to have all that we did have.

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The second helpful advice is the inverse to the first, namely that things actually might be better than they seem.  With the mission work that Jill and I have done over the years, we often found things to be tight financially.  During our first long-term over in PNG (1997-99), we always had enough to buy the essentials for living, but we could not save any extra and prepare for our upcoming furlough year back home.

Well, wouldn’t you know it.  There were some logistical issues in those days that made transferring funds from Canada to PNG difficult, and some monies began to accumulate for us back home.  Unfortunately we never knew this at the time, so maybe we might have worried a bit less back then.  But when we did get back to Canada, there was enough of a reserve fund that we were able to live okay during our 10 month period of visiting all our supporting churches.

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And then finally, Atteberry reminds us that “We Are In Good Hands“.  This is a truth that all of us as Christians really need to remind ourselves.  We are not insignificant specks in the Universe, but rather we are children of the King.  And He is still God and He is still in control.  He is the Master Potter, and though we feel the bruising of being shaped, and will endure some fiery trials here on earth, the Bible tells us that we are His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10) and that after creating mankind God said, “it was very good.”

And so my dear friends, while I hurt for those who are hurting, let us not give up hope.  Let us look up to God, not down at the trials that we think will crush us.  A brighter day will be easier to find if we can keep our spirits up and remain living life with a positive attitude.  And another Day will come when all sorrow and suffering, all disease and death will be gone and all tears wiped away.  Remember, God is the King, and we are His children.  He will rescue us in this life, and in the next.

How To Stay Positive – Pt 1

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Hard Road Journey – Part 7

In this month (on April 9th and 23rd), I will be summarizing the key points of chapter four of Mark Atteberry’s book “Walking With God on the Road You Never Wanted to Travel“.  To view the other articles that have preceded this, click on the blog Category Hard Road Journey.  For those who have asked where they could get this book, click here and you will go to a site that will help you obtain a copy of it.

Of all the chapters in this book, I think this is certainly one that I can really identify with.  Life is tough!  There is no disputing this fact.  People can disappoint; circumstances can change for the worst; crises, disasters and emergencies can occur without any warning.  What are we to do?  How do we face these challenges?  How do we even have the courage and the energy to even get out of bed the next morning and face these difficulties of life?

Atteberry’s advice in chapter four is to “Stay Positive!”  And that is exactly what I try to do.  In fact, you can call me “Mr. Optimist”.  : ) When something bad happens, one of the first things I try to do is to see if I can find something positive in the situation.   Perhaps there is a different angle or perspective to look at that will help me get through whatever difficulty I find myself in.

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Actually, there is a funny little story that kind of highlights this.  Shortly after Jill and I had started dating, we told my dear old grandma about it.  She smiled and joined our hands together and then said something profound to us.  She said to Jill, “That’s good.  Because my little Norman usually walks about three feet off the ground and you walk about three feet under ground.  But as long as you two keep on holding on to each other, you will be fine.”

And over the years, I have seen this to be true.  But that does not mean that there have been no hard road journeys for me.  You can’t say that life has been easy for me, and so naturally I walk with a lighter stride and have a smile on my face.  In fact, I believe the exact opposite has been true in my life.

Not even going back to look at my childhood period of my life, since Jill and I got married in 1984, it seems that life or people have thrown us into one crisis after the other.  In no specific order, I have faced the following challenges, each of which could probably be, and might be, a story in and of itself:

  • Dealing with the loss of Jill’s first pregnancy at 29 weeks, and being thousands of miles away from our family and friends.
  • When Jill was pregnant the second time,  I had an illness that was complicated by some drug allergies and I really thought I was going to die.
  • I experienced a loss of a job, which caused a delay in becoming accepted with a mission group.
  • Our finances seemed to be bad enough that I thought we might have to consider the option of bankruptcy.  (If not for the help of my parents, we may have had to.)
  • My son had leukemia which led our family on a 3 year cancer treatment journey.
  • I now have a muscle disease that causes extreme levels of fatigue and high levels of pain.

There is more that I could add here to the list of challenges we have faced over the years.  But you know, I think most people can sit down and write their own long list of hard-road-journey experiences.  The reason I have shared my list is to let my readers know that I can identify with someone who says, “I’m going through a rough period right now.”

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The question then is not, “Will I experience difficulties in life, or not?”, but rather, “What do I do when I encounter difficulties in life?”  Actually, I think Atteberry has it right when he labels difficulties as “battles”.  And he hit the nail on the head when he says, “There will be many tough battles you’ll have to fight as you travel your hard road, but none will be tougher then the battle to stay positive.”  (pg. 41)

Now let me pause and ask a related question.  If we find it too difficult to stay positive, then what is the other option left to us?  And every answer I come up with is negative.  We could get angry, or we could get depressed, or we could try to run away and avoid the problem.  There are lots of things that we could do, most of which are not very helpful.  But perhaps the most common reaction for people, including me, is that we will grumble and complain about our “lot in life”.

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This is part of what Atteberry focuses on in the first half of chapter four as he examines the difficult journey that the Israelites experienced during their period of wandering in the desert.  Again and again they found themselves in extreme situations, and what was their reaction?  Grumble and complain.  At first it looks like they were complaining against Moses, but in reality they were complaining against God.

And this is the danger of not having a positive attitude in life.  Ultimately we are shaking our fist at God, and again I think Atteberry has it right when he says, “Nothing will drive a wedge between you and God, nothing will stem the flow of His blessings into your life, like a complaining spirit.”  (pg. 42)

These are very challenging words from the author.  But do not let this discourage you, his words are meant as a loving plea and a warning.  He moves on to give us some excellent advice on how to stay positive in the second part of chapter four.  So stay tuned, in two weeks I have some great thoughts to share with you.

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God Given Friends

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Hard Road Journey – Part 5

We now begin a look into chapter three of Mark Atteberry’s book entitled “Walking With God on the Road you Never Wanted to Travel“.  We continue to study and learn together how to keep on walking forward when we find ourselves in a difficult place in life.  Often the journey is difficult and the road is long, but let us see what Atteberry’s next strategy is that can help us get through.  (If you have not read previous articles on this book, then click here to go back to “A Hard Road Journey – Part 1“.

The title of chapter three is “Travel With a Friend“, a principle that I totally agree with.  Whenever we go through tough times, often what happens is one of two things.  Either we withdraw and don’t open up to others about the difficult things that are happening in our lives (and then sometimes we wonder why “no one cares” because they do not call or visit).  Or, we approach people and are ready to talk about the tough things happening in our lives, but the people we approach are living such rapid and ragged lives themselves, it is nearly impossible for them to slow down to listen and to care for us.

The result is that for many of us, we live very lonely lives, even while we are surrounded by millions of people.  Now some godly people may offer truly genuine compassion when they tell the suffering person, “You are not alone!  God will never leave you nor abandon you.”  And they are right, God is with us at all times.  But for many of us who walk these hard road journeys, this spiritual truth and answer is just not quite satisfying in and of itself.

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I truly believe that for most people, and maybe I can be bold enough to say for all people, along with the Lord we need a real flesh-and-blood person to whom we can turn for help in times of great difficulty.  Atteberry says:

The hard roads of life are best traveled with a friend.  Even though God will be walking with you every step of the way, there’s a benefit to human companionship that cannot be denied.                                                                                                                                                          (pg. 28)

And then he says further:

And if it wasn’t good for him [Adam] to be alone in the safe haven of the Garden of Eden, how much more dangerous is it for him to be alone in a fallen world where the roads are hard and evil lurks in every shadow?”                                                                                                                     (pg. 30)

These words of Atteberry are quite wise.  And he expands on this thought of how important it is to find a friend to be with you while you walk through these dark valleys and difficult roads by giving us advise on exactly what kinds of friends we should be looking for.  Although there may be an abundance of friends who might look like good candidates of a person you might choose to have with you on this journey, not all friends are equal, and in fact some friends may actually be harmful to you.

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And so Atteberry tells us that there are four good qualities that people should have if they are to be the perfect friends for us, friends that can truly be helpful to us in our times of need.  First of all, it would be most helpful if your friend has also walked through a “wilderness experience”.  That person can empathize with us when life suddenly turns upside down for us.  Secondly, the “perfect” friend must have an intimate and daily relationship with God.  He or she can help you tap into spiritual truth and spiritual practices which will lighten the terrible load which you carry along your hard road journey.

The third quality that is so important for someone to be the perfect friend is that this hard-road companion must have a heart of compassion.  It is rather easy for people to say to others who are emotionally hurting something like, “Well, your husband isn’t suffering any more.”  That statement is true, but shows no compassion to the person who has just lost their spouse of 45+ years.

And the last good quality of a hard-road journey companion is that of loyalty.  Many friends will be there for you when you first encounter that great trial of life or experience the difficulty that turns your world upside down.  Long after all the other well-wishers have gone and are once again caught up in their busy lives, there are still some who decide to continue to stay by your side, and these are the kinds of quality friends that you need to associate with.  Then the hard-road journey you are on suddenly gets easier to walk upon and the burden gets lighter to carry.

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As I write this article, I think about a man whom we had never met before but who was there for us during a difficult period for our family.  His name is Christian.  (Pretty cool name, eh?)  At the time that I am thinking about, our first-born son Eric had been diagnosed with leukemia which caused us to leave the mission work in PNG and return to Canada.  While going through treatment, and by means of fascinating circumstances, Christian became aware of Eric’s situation.

And at that point, Eric had become a great fan of all Nintendo consoles and games and the Game Cube had just been released.  So as a surprise, and remember that Christian was a total stranger to us, he wanted to encourage Eric’s spirits, and he sent one of the first available Game Cubes to my son to help him (and us) face the hard-road journey that we were on, and would last for 33+ months of treatment.

Christian came alongside and became a hard-road companion to our family at the exact time we needed it.  Thankfully, I have been able to return the favor in recent years.  So stay tuned.  Two Saturdays from now (March 26) I will pick up this story about me and Christian.

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