Returning from yet another speaking engagement, I promised myself: "I'll do it tomorrow. I really mean it this time." Despite my exhaustion, I rested comfortably that night. As daylight broke, I rose to pray and then began my morning routine. My mind was racing as I rehearsed my to-do list. How can I get all of this done in one day? I thought. With so much to do and another trip scheduled, I've got to start these errands, or I'll run out of time.
At that moment the decision was made: "I'll run my errands now, and then I'll check on my ailing neighbor later today." read more
Some of the greatest challenges to our faith are those moments when we must endure the cold blight of a disappointment. The greater the anticipation, the greater the disappointment when we fail to receive what we have anticipated.
There is no shield that can keep away the days that come to teach our hearts submission to God's will and purpose for us. There are no roses so fragrant that they dismiss for us the tingling sensations of brokenness that come upon us when we see our expectations cave in.
It comes as if it will not leave, but you can be sure that is not so. It will go, and the sun will come again and rebuke the clouds that have hidden the light of God's purpose from shining through to you.
As much as it pleases God to bless you, there will be moments when everything you try goes up in smoke. There will be moments when the one you counted on most walks away and leaves you groping through blinding tears and wailing questions of why. Plans and goals can be circumvented by the most disappointing of times, leaving you learning the art of patience and the acceptance of a denied request.
Nevertheless, there is within the human capacity a tenacious instinct of survival that kicks in when we are at our lowest. It enables us to succeed through the storms of life. They will not overthrow you if you learn to trust God even when you can't trace Him.
You may not know why you have had to face the chilling winds of despair, but trust God to renew you. Just live on.
He is so wise. He knows the greater truths that can only be realized by beholding both today and tomorrow in one glance. He must, as a good father, deny requests that would insult the greater destiny He has prepared for those who are His.
"Submission" is a word many hearts resist even when they read it in the Word. But submission can be a friend to the struggling heart of a victim that has been chained to the will of God. Rather than burn your hands and hearts by wrestling to break free from the grip that holds you, just submit.
Why would you resist the One to whom you have entrusted your future? It is safe to trust Him. He will not fail you.
He watches out for you, and His eyes are keen! When He says no, you ought to say yes! He would never interrupt or embarrass you if He didn't see something ahead that necessitated the answer He gave.
The real issue is a matter of trust-trusting the Father to know what is best for any of us. He will not withhold any good thing from you. If it were good, He would have said yes.
That thing that is not coming to you may seem good. But either the timing is wrong, or from His position He can see that the future of it is bleak. I have always believed that people who thank God only for delivering them from what happened are just scraping the surface of praise. The real praise comes when you start thanking Him for what could have happened but didn't because of His swift grace!
Celebration should be leaping out of your heart. Trusting God transforms calamity into testimony. Knowing He cares too much for you to abuse you and is too wise to be wrong causes a wounded heart to serenade the heavens. When we begin to know Him rather than just serve Him, we can trust His vision, His wisdom and His insight, even when He does not explain what we thought we needed to know.
Many people rejoice about the opening of doors. I can understand why the heart sings when the hand of God moves the obstacle out of the way. The eye can see the way made, and the feet begin to dance toward a brighter future.
But I want to challenge you to go a step further into the deeper sovereign truth of a closed door. We can readily accept His authority when it is used to perform what we know to be a favor. The real challenge of submission is to submit when the human will would have chosen another way. This is the graduation exercise of faith and the commencement service of a trust for those whose dependency and reliance is upon the manifold wisdom of God.
It is significant to understand that the shut door is just as much a move of God as the open one (see Rev. 3:7). It is an action predetermined by the wisdom of a Father who knows what is best. He does emphatically shut doors. There is no purpose in any of us trying to pray open, work open or pry open what God has shut.
If the door is closed by the enemy, and he is trying to get you to give up on your dream, prayer and praise will unlock it. But if the door is closed by a sovereign decision of an all-wise God, and prayer and praise do not open it, then you must accept His decision.
That doesn't mean the door cannot be opened. It just means that "no man" can open it. If God doesn't open the door, it cannot be opened. If He doesn't do it, you don't want it to be done. There is a difference between a door Satan has jammed and a door God has locked from you.
It may not be a permanent lock. God may be saying, Not at this time. If it is a timed no, it may be God's way of bringing you to a place of submission. Only a praying heart that turns to Him can determine the answer. Prayer does work. If you pray, He does have the key, and He can open the door (see 2 Chron. 7:13-15).
If in prayer the hinges do not move and the latch does not unclasp, then we must conclude that God has for our betterment shut the door. Do not pout like a child who has become accustomed to getting his or her way. That response says you have not accepted discipline.
Perhaps the need for discipline is what has shut the door in the first place. The spoiled child may be getting weaned from the tantrums and sulking that accompany the untrained. This is hard, but it is also right!
I want you to learn the art of rejoicing when He says no. Rejoice, because if Satan is at work, your attitude will make his efforts futile. The enemy will get discouraged if you don't encourage him with your depression!
But I also want you to learn the ability to thank God when the answer is irrevocably, unalterably and emphatically no. It may sound insane, but trust me on this. It is all good! You see, He is working on your behalf.
Some of my greatest moments with God have come when I said yes to His corrections and decisions. Satan was defeated, and God was worshiped by my trust in His sovereign will for my life.
Doesn't that hurt? At first, but when I remind myself of God's love for me and rest in the knowledge that He would never hurt me, disappointment dissipates and love emanates from the comfort of His embrace. I am His child. I relax and say thank you.
Our problem is that we have never been loved by anyone in the way that God loves us. We have nothing with which we can compare His love. If we could ever fathom it—His love alone would heal the aching of our broken hearts. He absolutely adores each one of us.
Recognize that He has been speaking to you through all your circumstances. He is the One you need when life has wounded you and you have fallen from your nesting place like a bird. It is His hand that catches the falling soul. Then He casts it to the wind and commands it to fly again.
You have been called out and separated by God. You were not created to be popular. You were not called to cliques or clubs. You were chosen to fit in the hands of God who has already accepted you.
How I want you to know the height and the depth of His unfathomable love for you!
You would not be so critical of yourself or so worried about public opinion if you were to know the opinion of God. His thoughts toward you are good and not evil.
Some of you have never been secure in the love of your natural father, and it affects how you view your heavenly Father. But He made the ultimate sacrifice just to prove to you the authenticity of His love.
You may not see it or understand it, but He absolutely loves you. Not just when you are right. He loves you even when you are wrong. That is what gives you the power to right the wrongs you've made.
You are special and vibrant, full of potential and possibilities. You are the daughter of a King, who spared no expense to pay the ransom that delivered you from the things that held you hostage.
A no from Him is as sweet as a yes. Your life is about to crescendo into a symphony of praise. When His plan unfolds, you will be glad you didn't settle for your own way.
Go quickly into His presence; climb upon His knee; lay your head on His breast. Cry if you must, but talk to Him. Let Him cleanse you of sin and purge you of pride. He loves you just as much when He says no as He does when He says yes.
T.D. Jakesis the author of several best-selling books, including Woman, Thou Art Loosed!, Help, I'm Raising My Children Alone and The Lady, Her Lover, and Her Lord. He is the founder and pastor of The Potter's House in Dallas, Texas, one of the fastest-growing churches in the nation. read more
I had just spent three hours in the emergency room, yet could not sleep the entire night because I was so filled with God's joy. A few hours before, life had been as good as it could get. I was on stage speaking to about 13,000 people, and then just like that, I was being rushed to the hospital. I had just walked off the stage, sat on a stool and lost my balance. I fell backward, tried to catch myself, but it was too late. My shoulder had ripped away and my body went into shock. I couldn't move, and the pain was literally the worst I had ever known.
When your body goes into shock, you lose your sight and your heartbeat gets weak—or at least that was my experience. As we waited for the ambulance to arrive, a woman put her hand on my face and said, "Just rest right here." It was the most gentle touch I have known in the midst of physical pain. It was the only thing that brought me comfort.
The next few hours were filled with pain, until they got my arm back into place. But something happened that is so hard to explain. It was like the wind. I can't explain it, but I feel it and know it was there. I felt the joy of the Lord. I can't explain the situation and don't want to rationalize it, but God got my attention. I was humbled, but in the moment, I felt His amazing strength.
The other day, on Chicago Talk Radio, I was asked, "Sam, how does prayer play a role for someone who is going through all these hard times?"
My response was: "Here is what I know. God is not so much in the business of changing the circumstance as He is in the business of changing us for the circumstance. When my body wants me to pray, 'Lord, take this away,' I have learned to pray, 'God, make me bigger and stronger to overcome this.'"
Whether you have a great attitude or one that is idle and can't get above the bar of average, we all need something to add fuel to our outlook. At the end of the day, I have to recharge my cell phone for it to be effective and do what it was meant to do. The same goes for us. As a Christ follower, our attitude needs to be fueled to get through the adversity that we face daily. Every day our attitude will be tested. That is a given, so here are some points to remember to keep your attitude fueled by faith:
1. "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom. 12:2). Renewing your mind involves resting. It requires feeding on God's Word. God's Word is living and active, and it can empower your attitude to be joyful no matter what you are going through.
2. You are not a victim; you are just on a journey called "life." Nobody wants adversity, but God is greater than whatever you go through. "For Scripture says to Pharaoh, 'I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth'" (Rom. 9:17).
3. "Do not dwell on the past" (Is. 40:18). You cannot change the picture behind you, but you can determine the picture you walk toward in front of you.
4. Change what you think about, and you change what comes about. Create a positive anchor for your attitude. "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (Phil. 4:8).
Attitude drives our actions and creates results. The question is, what is fueling your attitude?
Sam Glenn, "The Authority on Attitude," is a sought-after motivational speaker, author and workplace consultant. He is also the founder of Attitude Digest magazine, a quarterly print publication and online community aimed at inspiring those in the workplace and beyond (see www.attitudedigest.com and www.samglenn.com). Sam got his start speaking for the Billy Graham Evangelical Association more than a decade ago.
Wisdom is the predominant theme of the book of Proverbs. That's why it has been referred to as the "wisdom manual" for daily living. It's designed to provide common sense and skill in dealing with everyday problems.
Wisdom brings balance to our lives as we endeavor to live in this high-tech "information age." Acquiring it is top priority, our text says—"the most important thing you can do!"
Solomon begins the book by saying, "The purpose of these proverbs is to teach people wisdom" (1:2). In essence, he is saying: "I am writing so you can have a personal encounter with wisdom." He emphasizes the importance of wisdom by mentioning it more than 123 times in this one book.
The Hebrew word for "wisdom" is hokmah. It's a multifaceted noun that means "to have skill, intelligence, and sensibility, judicious prow, to be endued with reason." Wisdom is simply the ability to live skillfully in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.
King Solomon uses the feminine gender and first person to characterize wisdom. Why does he present wisdom as a woman? Some scholars lay the blame on his heightened preoccupation with women. However, since all Scripture is given by inspiration of God (see 2 Tim. 3:16), there must be a deeper purpose.
I believe the Holy Spirit is giving us a physical picture of spiritual truth. Think about it: From the natural standpoint woman is appealing. So is wisdom. She is desirable and unique among the species. Wisdom also holds these qualities. In the creation account, woman is represented as the crowning of all God's creation—the completion of humankind. Wisdom too brings fullness and completion. It is principal, first and necessary.
Solomon refers to wisdom in first person to set forth the truth that wisdom is speaking directly to each of us. For example, in Proverbs 8:6-7, he writes: "Listen to me! For I have excellent things to tell you. Everything I say is right, for I speak the truth and hate every kind of deception."
By using first person, the Holy Spirit is making wisdom personal rather than presenting it as mere information or knowledge. Therefore, wisdom becomes intimate, real and animate. Wisdom takes on the nature of a close, personal friend.
Do you need wisdom? The book of Proverbs focuses on this topic more than any other book in your Bible. Why not avail yourself of it? Grab your Bible—and wise up!
During the Easter season, it’s important to remember how many people actually saw the resurrected Christ.
Every Easter most Christians attend a sunrise or other church service and then conclude their spiritual celebration is over. But Easter is a 40-day season, not just one day. It commemorates the 40 days the resurrected Jesus walked the earth before His ascension into heaven. Luke wrote, "He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3, NKJV). read more
We grieve the Spirit by saying what comes to mind that is not honoring to God.
Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. —Proverbs 26:20
Gossip. What an ugly word. I hate the word. It is what sells millions of cheap and tawdry magazines at the checkout line in a supermarket. I so despise them that I like to think I am above this stuff.
I may not read these magazines, but I am just as guilty as those who do read them when I myself hear with glee that a person I don't like has been found out—and I pass it on; or I repeat news of something unflattering about an enemy or a person who has wanted to hurt me in some way; or I make a person feel good that I know would relish news of their enemy's difficulty. James says the tongue is a fire (James 3:6), and when I enter into conversations like this, I grieve the Holy Spirit.
Gossip is a defense mechanism to preserve our self-esteem. It arises out of an inferiority complex; we build ourselves up by tearing others down—or enjoying hearing that they are in trouble of some kind. It is a poisonous habit that betrays our insecurity and lack of spirituality. If gossip makes us feel better, we are self-deceived.
We may claim to be Spirit-filled, sound in our theology, faithful in our commitment to the church, zealous in worship, and have devotional lives that are highly admirable. But when we grieve the Spirit by saying what comes to mind that is not honoring to God, we become the very examples James laments: we praise the Lord and curse men.
James asks, “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?”(James 3:11). If the well in us—the Holy Spirit (John 7:38–39)—overflows, one expects the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). But when the Spirit begins to speak through us, and instead of love, joy, and peace, suddenly there emerges anger, vengeance, and envy, something has gone terribly wrong.
The Holy Spirit will not produce gossip, anger, revenge, or any other fleshly reaction any more than a fig tree can bear an olive or a grapevine bear a fig (James 3:12–16). It is impossible for the Holy Spirit to produce other than the fruit such as love, joy, peace, and self-control. If we say we are Spirit-filled, then let us display the fruit of the Spirit.
Excerpted from Controlling the Tongue (Charisma House, 2007). read more
Many people who are angry at God won't admit they think He has wronged them. But the bitterness in your heart is a telltale sign that you're blaming Him.
I have met both agnostics, who question the existence of God, and atheists, who do not believe in God, but what amazes me is the number of people I meet who are bitter toward God. Some people are angry about terrible things that have happened in their lives or families. Others have had someone close to them die, and they react by blaming God: “Why did You take my brother?” or “How could You have taken my mother when I was only 5 years old?”
Sometimes they figure they will “get even” with God if they stop putting their faith in Him. As Psalm 1:1 says, they sit “in the seat of the scornful” (NKJV) and are antagonistic toward Him. Whatever their reasons, they are mad at God. Many actually hate Him.
Bitterness toward God can be hard to face and is often overlooked, excused or deeply hidden. It can lie far below the surface, beneath the other “junk in your trunk.” You can unload poisonous unforgiveness, fatal connections to your offenders, unfocused anger, bad habits such as complaining and causing strife, and lots of other junk. But if you keep bitterness toward God deep down in the bottom of your trunk, you will be sidelined in your spiritual race. That burden will keep you from going anywhere.
Admit It and Quit It
I have often given my congregation this counsel: “Admit it and quit it.” You can see why our church has a ministry department staffed with associate pastors who are more adept at patient, tactful counseling than I am! If our people need intensive help with ongoing issues, they know that the senior pastor's office is probably not the best place to start. The first part of my advice, however-“Admit it”-is exactly the place to start if you are mad at God.
So many people who are mad at God will not admit that they believe God has done them wrong. They may be afraid other people will be shocked by such an admission, or they may not want to face someone who will try to “talk them out of it.” But honestly admitting that they think God has done them wrong is the first step in freeing themselves from this destructive burden.
Job was mad at God and declared it in Job 27:2: “'As God lives, who has taken away my justice, and the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter.'” No two ways about that-Job was mad at God.
Very often blaming our troubles or sorrows on God stems from a misunderstanding, and that was certainly the case with Job. Let's look at a few other statements Job made and uncover the misunderstanding at the root of his bitterness.
“'Therefore I say, “He destroys the blameless and the wicked.” If the scourge slays suddenly, He laughs at the plight of the innocent. The earth is given into the hand of the wicked. He covers the faces of its judges. If it is not He, who else could it be?'” (Job 9:22-24).
In Job's mind at this point, God is the author of every bad thing on Earth. Maybe that is your mind-set, too.
Job was sure God destroyed both the blameless and the wicked. If a scourge came, Job felt God laughed at the suffering. If judges handed down poor decisions, Job said God had covered their faces.
But we know from Scripture that God does not destroy the upright with the wicked. He is not amused at the suffering caused by plagues such as AIDS. Nor is He pleased with the decisions of wicked judges. So if God is not at the bottom of terrible things, then what is the answer to the question everyone who is bitter toward God asks: “Who else could it be?”
We have a little easier time coming up with that answer than Job had. We have an advantage that he did not have; he could not pick up a Bible and read Job 1, 2 and 3. Job is the oldest book in the Bible, and in the first three chapters ever written, we find that God was not making Job's life (and everyone else's) miserable-it was Satan. “Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (Job 2:7). Yet Job was convinced that God was his attacker:
“'I was at ease, but He has shattered me; He also has taken me by my neck, and shaken me to pieces; He has set me up for His target, His archers surround me. He pierces my heart and does not pity; He pours out my gall on the ground. He breaks me with wound upon wound; He runs at me like a warrior'” (16:12-14).
God is after me, Job thought. He's picking me to pieces. But the devil was after Job, not God. In fact, God said to the devil, “'Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?'” (1:8). God greatly loved His servant Job.
God greatly loves you, even when you are furious with Him. You should be furious with the things that pick your life to pieces, but perhaps your fury is misdirected. Perhaps it results from the same misunderstanding Job had in his mind.
You should not be mad at God; you should be mad at the devil and mad at the sin in the world that allows him in. When you have cleared up that misunderstanding, you are ready to follow the second part of my standard counseling advice: “Quit it.” Quit targeting God with your anger and get mad at the right target-Satan-the author of every bad thing on Earth!
Theology Made Simple
Though the Bible is true and the statements I quoted from Job are contained in it, to avoid any confusion, remember that the Bible also states that Job's theology was wrong. The first thing God said when He showed up to talk with Job was, loosely paraphrased, “Job, you don't know what you're talking about.” Job 38 tells us the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, “'Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?'” (vv. 1-2).
Put another way, if we listen to Job's dark counsel and foolish words, we will walk in darkness as he did and perhaps counsel others to do the same. It amazes me that most of the church does this very thing, picking up its doctrine of why bad things happen on Earth straight from the faulty theology of Job.
Many Christians have told me, “God gave me this cancer [or MS or other disease] because I needed to draw closer to Him” or “God let this awful situation happen to teach me a lesson.” ?Though we do often draw closer to Him through sickness or trials, and though He is in the business of turning terrible situations around to our benefit, God does not cause bad things to happen to us so that He can try to get a good result out of them. It is Satan, “the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4), who is responsible for evil.
We need to remember that not everything that happens on Earth is the will of God. If it were, there would be no need for us to pray the prayer Jesus taught us, which says in part, “'Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven'” (Matt. 6:10). Jesus Himself demonstrated what God wills on Earth. Anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power, Jesus “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38). Who oppressed everyone Jesus came to heal? Right-the devil.
God did not bring sickness, disease, oppression and bondage into the world. The devil did-the thief who comes only “to steal and to kill and to destroy” (John 10:10). If anything steals from you, kills you or destroys your life, it did not come from God.
John 10:10 is really the great divide that shows us what comes from God and what comes from the devil. It also says Jesus came “that [we] may have life, and that [we] may have it more abundantly.”
You can tell from this verse what comes into your life from God and what does not. All that steals, kills and destroys comes from the devil, and all that gives life abundantly comes from God.
Other verses confirm this great divide, and many verses warn us not to be deceived about its truth. Interestingly, every time the Bible says “do not be deceived,” it refers to an area where most of the church is deceived. If you can grasp the truth in these next verses, you will be a step ahead of 90 percent of theologians:
“Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:16-17).
What comes down from God? Every good and perfect gift. With Him there is no variation or shadow of turning. God does not have bad days or moods. God is the same every day, the same yesterday, today and forever. He is a good God-all the time.
Good God-Bad Devil
If terrible things have happened to you and you have reacted by overloading your trunk with bitterness toward God, you have probably asked yourself the unbearable question: If God is bad, life is truly hopeless-what's the use of even carrying on? Bitterness toward God is always an unbearable burden-but it is also an unnecessary one. God is not the author of anything bad; He authors only the good gifts that make your life abundant.
If you have had a loved one die, realize that God is not the author of death. He calls death an enemy. Death showed up when the devil did.
If you want to know what God is like, look at the Garden of Eden before the fall. No sickness, no death. And after the fall, God sent His Son “to undo (destroy, loosen, and dissolve)” the works of the devil (1 John 3:8, The Amplified Bible). When Jesus comes again, the devil will get his due and be gone. And sin, death, sickness, disease, war, pestilence-all that steals, kills and destroys-will be gone, too. When God is in charge again, He will “wipe away every tear” from our eyes and “there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4, NKJV).
Good God-bad devil. That is all the theology you will ever need. God is not your enemy; God is your answer. You are right to get mad about the destructive things that happen in life, but you need to get mad at the devil, not God.
You have probably heard the warning, Do not “give place to the devil” (Eph. 4:27), but there is one place you do need to give him: a place in your theology. You must realize that he is your personal enemy and that he hates you. He has an army of demonic spirits who also hate you, and they all are out to steal, kill and destroy so that you will live the worst life imaginable.
If that realization does not have a place in your theology, you will think God is attacking you when your attacker is actually the devil. You will blame God for everything that happens.
The entire book of Job was about how he experienced a number of tragedies and blamed God. Job accused God of setting him up as a target and piercing his heart (see Job 16:12-13), but the Bible clearly states that it was Satan who attacked Job.
Job finally realized his mistake and stopped accusing God. He confessed: “'I have uttered what I did not understand … but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes'” (Job 42:3,5-6). Paraphrased, that means: “Now that I've seen You for who You are, Lord, I know I was wrong about You. I am turning around and going in a different direction.”
Then Job prayed for his friends, whose theology had also been dead wrong, and God “restored [his] losses. ... Indeed the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:10). God completely turned Job's life around when Job got his theology straight and then prayed for his friends. Job was twice as blessed as before.
Good God-bad devil. Theology is that simple. Show that you believe it by repenting of your bitterness toward God and redirecting your anger toward the devil today.
Duane Vander Klok is pastor, with his wife, Jean, of the 8,000-member Resurrection Life Church in Grandville, Michigan. read more
We all know God can work miracles. But how do we respond when someone with a chronic illness can’t find His healing touch?
What do we think when we encounter chronically ill people in our charismatic churches—godly, sincere believers who don't receive their healing despite years sometimes of pleading with God or examining themselves to find some fault that might be blocking their recovery?
Do we associate their unhealed illness with the weak faith they must possess? Do we view them dismissively, thinking hidden sin in their life surely is fueling their condition and that mere confession would restore physical wholeness?
These are relevant questions, since we all probably know chronically ill believers.
Consider this cross section of such Christians from the Pacific Northwest.
Bonnie Sanders. The Seattle resident was born with an extremely rare genetic defect that prevents her body from repairing skin damage caused by the sun's ultraviolet rays. For years, she attended a megachurch where the leaders stood firm that if one did not receive healing it was because of sin or lack of faith.
William Franks. During his sophomore year at the University of Washington, Franks fell into an inexplicable depression combined with racing, every-waking-moment abhorrent thoughts about himself. He was in continual torment. The mental illness—as it turned out to be—lasted 10 years despite the prayers of many.
Steve Hawthorne. Decades ago, Hawthorne unexpectedly suffered kidney failure. He kept up his ministry work amid almost daily dialysis and weekly blood transfusions. Sixteen years ago—and four months after he and his wife, Juanita, opened their church in Puyallup, Washington—Juanita died of brain cancer, following weeks of pain and despite the prayers of her fellow church members.
How would you respond to believers such as these? Many charismatics would say: "Give them a dose of tough love. Tell them to get their walk with God and faith straightened out and healing will come."
You might agree. And you might be right. Or wrong. But before you decide on the spiritual stability of these three souls, hear their stories.
Bonnie Sanders, 45
It was around Sanders' 6th birthday that it became clear something was seriously wrong. She couldn't be in the sun for more than a few minutes without her skin and eyes turning red. Coincidently, it was the same year that a doctor developed a test to diagnose xeroderma pigmentosum, or XP, the extremely rare genetic defect young Sanders suffered from.
"XP is genetically recessive. Both the mother and the father have to carry the gene," Sanders says, noting her parents later discovered they are distantly related—not a surprising occurrence in the tightly knit Dutch Reformed farming community of rural Iowa where they grew up.
Sanders had her first tumor removed at age 6. Since then, her life has been an unbelievable series of surgeries and heartaches. She estimates she's had about 1,000 biopsies and more than 300 surgeries or reconstructions, mostly on her face and hands.
"I remember going to a research doctor when I was 6. My three siblings and I were lined up, and the doctor pointed to my younger brother and me and said, in our presence, 'That one and that one will die, but the other two will live.'"
Sanders' brother also has XP, but his case is much less severe.
Dutiful churchgoers, Sanders' parents took their children with them to church regularly until an incident in which a pastor told her father, "The reason your daughter has this problem is because of sin in your life."
"That was the last time my dad took us to church," Sanders says.
During high school years, her facial surgeries became more radical. In the 10th grade she lost the left side of her nose. The doctors used skin from behind her ear to reconstruct her nose. In college, she lost the right side of her nose, about a third of the bottom of both eyelids and part of her lower lip.
While pregnant with her second daughter, she was diagnosed with a bone tumor in her jaw. At week 26 of her pregnancy, she underwent a six-hour surgery and lost most of the right side of her jaw.
Because Sanders tries to stay out of both the sun and artificial ultraviolet light, none of the many skin grafts she has received on her face have changed color, so her face is a patchwork of different skin shades.
Sanders came to Christ in her junior year at the University of Washington. She has since then wrestled with why God didn't heal her, but now she says she's at peace.
"I have an incredible life, husband and family," Sanders says. "My challenges have made me a living testimony of the strength you can receive only through God. I'm living proof that there is hope for life after a death sentence from the medical field. I owe it all to God's grace and daily healing and the God-given skill of wonderful physicians."
William Franks, 47
As is often so with mental illness, it erupts in the late teen years, when Franks' did. "Looking back," he says, "I think my mental illness started in my early teens as a kind of paranoia. I had an unhappy childhood and was picked on mercilessly."
He was too ashamed of his strange, full-throttle thoughts to admit his agony to anyone. Two years after college and minutes before his wedding ceremony, Franks was in a room in the church, pacing back and forth and pounding his head to straighten out his racing dread. "I thought: OK, I'm getting married. I've got to get rid of this," he says.
On his honeymoon, Franks spiraled even further downward. He was immobilized by his pain and was suicidal. His new bride desperately searched the Yellow Pages of Kona, Hawaii, looking for help as Franks moaned on the hotel-room couch.
The nearby Foursquare pastor arrived, counseled Franks and prayed for the two of them to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Franks rose out of his suicidal stupor, but he was nowhere near healed.
For the next five years, he and his wife sought out all manner of Christian counselors for help. However, no one could stop his leaden depression and his racing thoughts.
It wasn't until a Jewish psychiatrist in Bellingham, Washington, suggested Franks consult with a peer of his at the nearby University of British Columbia that the doors of healing opened. The Canadian psychiatrist interviewed Franks for about 15 minutes and calmly said, "Well, it's clear you have obsessive-compulsive disorder."
He prescribed a medicine that quickly took away all his depression and agonizing thoughts. The drug was available only in Canada, so Franks had to make regular trips to British Columbia to buy his medicine.
He firmly believes that depression and other mental disorders are often physiological problems—the result of inadequacies in four neurotransmitters in the brain, particularly serotonin. The mind and the brain are connected in such a way that a person's thought patterns can deplete serotonin levels, Franks believes. If a person has a genetic lack of serotonin, he will be unable to control his thoughts.
"All I know is that I was prayed for by dozens of sincere, godly believers. I regularly pleaded with God to take away my pain and to show me if there was any way I was blocking my healing," Franks says.
"But all I had to do was take a little pill, and all my problems were solved. Do I believe God still performs miracles? Absolutely. But, in my case, He worked through secular medicine."
Steve Hawthorne, 48
In 1983, Steve Hawthorne and his wife, Juanita—married just a year, idealistic and full of passion for the gospel—went to Fresno (California) State University to start a ministry. After about a year there, Hawthorne began to feel extremely fatigued.
At first he assumed it was the hot California August. But one morning while he was brushing his teeth, "huge hunks" of his tongue started coming off, he says.
When he took off his shirt, he found hundreds of water blisters on his torso. He didn't know it at the time, but both of these strange occurrences were signs that his kidneys had shut down and his body had filled with toxins.
The day after Hawthorne saw a physician, he and Juanita were packing for a hiking trip to Yosemite when the doctor called and said Hawthorne must get to the hospital as quickly as possible. Soon—lying in a hospital bed, affixed to tubes and monitors—he was presented with the news that his kidneys had failed.
Upon his release, he went through dialysis three days a week and blood transfusions each week—yet tried to look at the bright side. It gave him an opportunity most people don't have. He could sit and study the Scriptures for long periods of time.
The young couple moved back to the Pacific Northwest. Soon after, his doctor called to say a matching set of kidneys had been found.
Hawthorne underwent a transplant, but in two years the kidneys failed. A rare disease had infected the organs before he received them.
The years went by, and the Hawthornes opened their Foursquare church in Puyallup, Washington. Four months later, Juanita was dead from brain cancer. Hawthorne was left to raise their two young children.
As time passed he underwent regular surgeries, often to repair the "access sites" for dialysis on his arms. He estimates he went through 20 surgeries and says he was close to death on the operating table more than once.
Despite this, Hawthorne kept on pastoring the church, eventually finding a peace. "I was content on dialysis," he says. "I said, 'Lord, thank you for life.' I didn't even think of myself as sick."
On May 16, 2003, Hawthorne got new kidneys. Several months later, he remarried. Both of his and Juanita's children—Josh, 21, and Stephanie, 19—are strongly following Christ. Today he pastors CrossPoint Foursquare Church in Puyallup.
Says Hawthorne: "I love Romans 15:13—'May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.'"
A Personal View of Suffering
So, did Sanders, Franks and Hawthorne miss their healing or have to wait years for it to come—and then by way of earthly medicine instead of a divine act—because they were blocking the Spirit's work through their sin or lack of faith?
They provide the answers.
"Halfway into my 10-year mental illness, my wife and I became very involved in the inner-healing ministry of Dennis and Rita Bennett," Franks says. "Dennis and Rita would point out that it's not in God's character to withhold healing from a suffering believer and that we can block God's healing in our lives through subconscious defects in our 'inner man,' our soul. I don't take offense with the idea that my faith or my walk may be lacking. That's why I need grace."
Franks even admits that because the medicine he takes to regulate the level of his brain's neurotransmitters brings him peace it could be exempting him from dealing with underlying emotional issues that wreak havoc with his brain chemistry.
"But, I've got to tell you, I've done the whole bit of trying to work on my problems as a crazy person," he says. "I'd much rather be able to, relatively speaking, ignore my underlying emotional issues and be sane."
Hawthorne refuses to blame his faith level or personal dedication to Christ for his illness. "We examined our hearts—'Is there anything in our lives, Lord, that we need to change or get rid of?' We were surrounded by committed Christians who loved us and prayed for us."
Sanders too says her illness didn't stem from a lack of faith or dedication to Christ. "I know how I live my life," she says, "and so does God."
The three agree that the lack of miraculous healing in their lives is just evidence of God's desire to use their sickness for His glory.
"I know God's character," Sanders says. "He is not going to let me go through what I've gone through if it's not going to serve some higher purpose."
Says Franks: "I'm a firm believer that much of Christianity—of God's dealings with man—is shrouded in mystery. It's silly to think that you, a finite creature, could understand the mind of the infinite, uncreated God. Everything that is in the Bible is true. But not everything that is true is in the Bible. I don't think we can presume upon God."
Sanders, Franks and Hawthorne now see much good that has resulted from their chronic illnesses.
"I don't know all the answers, but I think there are two major reasons God didn't heal me," Hawthorne says. "One, He wanted to work in my character. Two, my illness connected me with so many people. If it took my kidneys failing for these people to make it into the kingdom, I'm OK with that."
So how should we view the chronically ill Christian? The people interviewed for this article said such people need our compassion and prayers.
"I would never look down on someone with a chronic illness," Franks says. "I know they want the illness gone more than anyone else [does]. I know they've tried everything they can. I know they're trying as hard as they can to listen for the voice of God."
"Don't push harsh judgments on them," Hawthorne encouraged. "They're doing everything they can spiritually to be healed. Judgment doesn't do them any good."
Sanders believes the church should provide love and support and stand in prayerful agreement.
"Focus on the heart and fruit of the person's life, not the condition of the 'package' they live in," she says. "We have a responsibility to guard and care for the body, soul and spirit that God gave us. We also have a responsibility to live in line with God's teachings, believe for our complete healing, and to call on God to bind Satan's attempts to steal, kill and destroy.
"Ultimately, God's in charge of the manner and timing of the healing," Sanders says. "For some, this may not occur until they receive their new perfect body when they stand next to God. At that time, He will give us an account of our lives and His plan and we will have answers to the many mysteries of our lives."
John Draper is a writer in the Pacific Northwest and a member of the Charismatic Episcopal Church.
Many of God's people are not schooled in the art of moving on. We spend a lot of our time stuck, not able to move beyond what happened yesterday.
Now the Lord said to Samuel, ‘You have mourned long enough for Saul. I have rejected him as king of Israel, so fill your flask with olive oil and go to Bethlehem.’ ” —1 Samuel 16:1, NLT
This passage from the Bible indicates that Samuel had reached a place in his life from which he needed to move on. Ever been there? Like it or not, we all hit this type of place periodically in our journey of faith.
Unfortunately, many of God’s people are not schooled in the art of moving on. We spend a lot of our time stuck, living in the past, never able to move beyond what happened yesterday. We’re unskilled at navigating new beginnings.
The Bible shows us that life is a succession of closures and new beginnings. God said to Abraham, “‘Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you’ ”(Gen. 12:1, NLT). We see this pattern demonstrated time and again in the lives of God’s choice servants.They are required to let go of the old and step out in faith toward the new.
Closure is one of the great keys to moving forward in life. When we don’t understand its importance, we often get stuck in our yesterdays or simply grow comfortable with the way things are.
It is foolish on our part to believe that nothing in life will ever change. Everything changes! Our characters develop, our personalities blossom, our attitudes change, and unfortunately, our bodies grow older.
The definition of the word “closure” is “to bring something to a close; to bring to an end, to resolve and finalize it in your thinking, to move beyond.” It’s the act of resolving to let something go. Most often, closure is a decision; it’s an act of the human will. Sometimes it is easy, at other times grueling. More often than not, it is purely an act of faith; feelings catch up with you later.
Many who are struggling with a decision to move on in life will battle incessantly with ambivalence. Ambivalence is the emotional turmoil one feels when weighing the pros and cons of life’s decisions. As uncomfortable as it is, ambivalence is actually a part of the process and forces us to fully examine our decisions in light of good judgment. Ambivalence must be endured as we process life.
Is it possible the Lord is saying to you, “You have mourned long enough”? Could it be that you need closure in an area of your life? Undoubtedly, God wants to take you into something new. Are you ready for it?
Though it feels like everything is crumbling around us, we have a choice; we can watch from the sidelines or be used as God’s vessel in the midst.
The times you and I now live in could be lumped into categories ranging from "unsure" to "unsettling" to "unnerving" to flat-out "frightening." One great positive during these days, however, is the fact that God is not the least bit nervous about what's happening.
He, in fact, told us there would be periods like this. Living our lives from God's perspective allows us to share one of many distinct advantages with Him--we can have peace while troublesome times are brewing all around.
Some passages in the New Testament provide us with a parallel to current world affairs. Consider the words of Jesus in Matthew 24. His disciples asked Him, "'What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?'" (v. 3, NIV). When I think about how Jesus answered His followers, it seems as if He had been watching today's CNN Headline News reports. He said: read more