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Problem of Evil

            Whatever the answer to why there is evil and suffering in the world, this much is true: God took his own medicine.


Purpose of Evil

            A composer of a musical score sometimes includes some discords to create an overall pleasing effect. In a similar manner, God’s ultimate purpose for the world was best served by a plan that allowed for the presence and activity of evil.


Purpose of Pain

        There is an ancient Chinese philosophy which says: “To be dry and thirsty in a hot and dusty land-and to feel great drops of rain on my bare skin-ah, is this not happiness? To have an itch in the private parts of my body-and finally to escape from my friends and to a hiding place where I can scratch-ah, is this not happiness?” Pain and pleasure are inextricably linked. The pleasure would not exist, or least be recognized, if it were not for pain.—Philip Yancey


Purpose of Pain

        Pain can serve a definite purpose in our lives.

        Dr. Paul Brand of Carville, Louisiana, one of the world’s foremost experts on leprosy, describes how “leprosy patients lose their fingers and toes, not because the disease can cause decay, but precisely because they lack pain sensations. Nothing warns them when water is too hot or a hammer handle is splintered. Accidental self-abuse destroys their bodies.”—Cited by Philip Yancey


Purpose of Pain

       Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, and shouts in our pain. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.—C.S. Lewis


Limits of Testing

The large tractor-trailer trucks that travel the highways of the nation are subjected to a load limit. This means that there is a limit as to how much weight each truck is allowed to carry. There is a good reason for establishing such limits. If the trucks were allowed to exceed their weight limit, the roads would eventually fall apart, because a given road is designed to support vehicles only up to a certain weight.

Likewise, God knows how much we can bear when he allows us to be tested. He has assigned a definite “load limit” to each of us and never exceeds it (1 Cor. 10:13) ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching.


Purpose of testing

When American Airlines trains their pilots they first seek to prove them by use of a simulator. The simulator is designed to present the pilot with a variety of potential problems so that he will be able to handle any emergency in the future. First the pilot is tested with simple challenges, which eventually build up to catastrophic situations. The pilots are given more difficult problems only after they have mastered the previous ones. The result is that when the pilots have completed their courses, they are prepared to handle any problem that comes their way.

This is similar to God’s method of working with us. God teaches us how to handle the problems of life, but never gives us more than we can handle. He teaches us through each situation, so that we can be fully prepared and mature people, ready to handle any challenge in life that might come our way. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching



There is a story about how birds got their wings. The story goes that birds were first made without wings. Then God made wings, put them in front of the wingless birds, and said to them, “Come, take up these burdens and bear them.” The birds hesitated at first, but soon obeyed and picked up the wings in their beaks. Because the wings were heavy, the birds laid them on their shoulders. Then, to their amazement, the wings began to grow and soon had attached themselves to their bodies. The birds quickly discovered how to use these new appendages and were soon soaring through the air. What had once been a heavy burden now became an instrument that enabled the birds to soar and go where they could never go before.

The story is a parable. We are the wingless birds. The duties and tasks that seem like a burden and a trial often become the very means that God uses to lift us up and build godliness in us. God’s plan is for our tasks to be our helpers and motivators. To refuse to bend our shoulders to receive a load is to decline a new opportunity for growth. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching



There once was an ant who felt imposed upon, overburdened, and overworked. You see, he was instructed to carry a piece of straw across an expanse of concrete. The straw was so long and heavy that he staggered beneath its weight and felt he would not survive. Finally, as the stress of his burden began to overwhelm him and he began to wonder if life itself was worth it, the ant was brought to a halt by a large crack in his path. There was no way of getting across that deep divide, and it was evident that to go around it would be his final undoing. He stood there discouraged. Then suddenly a thought struck him. Carefully laying the straw across the crack in the concrete, he walked over it and safely reached the other side. His heavy load had become a helpful bridge. The burden was also a blessing. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching



A man was shopping in a grocery story. His young son followed closely behind, carrying a large basket. The father loaded the basket with one thing after another until another customer began to feel sorry for the boy. She said, “That’s a pretty heavy load for a young fellow like you, isn’t it?” The boy turned to the woman and said, “Oh, don’t worry. My dad knows how much I can carry.” In the same way, God knows our limitations and gives to us no burden beyond what we can carry. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching



In a man’s dream, he had a vision of walking through life on a sandy beach with Jesus by his side. As he looked back at the footprints in the sand, he noticed that at the troublesome spots of his life only one set of footprints marked the sand. The man asked Jesus where the Lord had been during those troublesome times. Jesus replied: “That single set of footprints is mine. Then I was carrying you and your burden.” ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching



Have you ever stopped to examine weeds? They serve as a reminder of judgment, a result of the curse on the ground after the fall of Adam. But if you look closely, you can see signs of mercy in that judgment. Some weeds have gorgeous flowers: tiny blue bells, ruffled purple blooms, and even magnificent displays of gold. In the same way-even in trials or discipline-if we look closely, we can see beautiful signs of God’s mercy. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching



A customer once asked a shopkeeper, “What makes this set of china so much more expensive than that one over there? They look almost the same.” The reply was simple, “The costlier set has had more done to it. You see, it had to be put through the kiln twice because the flowers are on a yellow background. On the less expensive set, they are on a white background. The costly china had to be put through the fire once for the yellow background, and then a second time for the design on it.”

So it is in the life of a believer who desires God’s best. There will be many times we must go through the kiln with all of its fire and heat until we fully display God’s intended design in our life. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching



There is a story about a traveler in a logging area who watched with curiosity as a lumberjack occasionally jabbed his sharp hook into a log to separate it from the others floating down a mountain stream. When asked why he did this, the logger replied, “These may all look alike to you, but I can recognize that a few of them are quite different. The ones I let pass are from trees that grew in a valley where they were always protected from the storms. Their grain is rather coarse. The ones I have hooked and kept apart came from high on the mountains. From the time they were small they were beaten by strong winds. This toughens the trees and gives them a fine grain. We save them for choice work. They are too good to be used for ordinary lumber.”

Has the grain of your character been finely arranged by the toughening action of life’s trials and adversity? ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching



Someone has said, “A brook would lose its song if God removed the rocks.” ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching



No one enjoys a visit to the dentist, although all enjoy the long-range benefits of the visit. In a similar way, no one enjoys the difficulties of a trial, but all who endure them enjoy the side effects of perseverance, proven character, and hope. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching



The richest chords require some black keys. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


God’s Help in Trials

Long ago, in the days of sailing ships, a terrible storm arose and a ship was lost in a deserted area. Only one crewman survived, washed up on a small uninhabited island. In his desperation, the castaway daily prayed to God for help and deliverance from his lonely existence. Each day he looked for a passing ship and saw nothing. Eventually he managed to build a crude hut, in which he stored the few things he had recovered from the wreck and those things he had made to help him.

One day, as the sailor was returning from his daily search for food, he saw a column of smoke. As he ran to it he saw his hut in flames. All was lost. Now not only was he alone, but he had nothing to help him in his struggle for survival. Stunned and nearly overcome with grief and despair, he fell into a deep depression and spent a nearly sleepless night wondering what was to become of him and questioning whether life itself was even worth the effort.

The next morning, he rose early and went down to the sea. There, to his amazement, he saw a ship lying offshore and a small boat rowing toward him. When the once-marooned man met the ship’s captain, he asked him how he had known to send help. The captain replied, “Why, we saw your smoke signal yesterday, but by the time we drew close the tide was against us. So we had to wait until now to come and get you.”

Do not despair when calamity strikes, for God is always able to bring a blessing out of what seems to be a curse. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


God’s Help in Trials

A vine clings to an oak tree and in so doing finds the protection in times of trial that preserves it. If a violent storm should arise and the vine is on the side of the tree away from the wind, the tree serves to protect the vine from the wind, which would otherwise tear it away and rip it into shreds. If the vine is on the exposed side of the tree, the wind serves only to press the vine closer to the tree it already clings to.

In the storms of our life, God will at times set himself between us and the fury of the storm and so protect us from it. At other times, he will expose us to the storm so that its ravages may serve to press us closer to him. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


God’s Help in Trials

Some flowers, such as the rose, must be crushed if their full fragrance is to be released. Some fruits, such as the sycamore, must be bruised if they are to attain ripeness and sweetness. Some metals, such as gold, must be heated in the furnace if they are to become pure.

The attaining of godliness-the process of becoming a mature Christian-requires similar special handling. It is often through pain, suffering, trouble, adversity, trials, and even temptation that we develop spiritual discipline and become refined and enriched. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


God’s Help in Trials

When a wood sculptor wants to create a work of art, he starts with a log and begins to fashion it with a sharp chisel. He meticulously cuts and shapes that log until finally he has his finished product. The log, which might otherwise have been burned in a fireplace, has become a beautiful masterpiece that can be displayed on the mantle over the fireplace.

God’s working in our lives may sometimes be painful, yet his ultimate purpose for us is to produce a masterpiece. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


God’s Help in Trials

The story is told of two artists who were putting the finishing touches on a painting high on a scaffold in a church. The younger artist stepped back to admire the work and became enraptured with the beauty of what he and his mentor had created. His master saw his pleasure and realized that in the emotion of the moment the young man was continuing to step back, inching toward the edge of the scaffold. In another moment he would plunge to his death. Fearing he would frighten his student by a warning cry, the master artist deliberately splashed paint across the painting. The young man lunged forward in shock and cried out, “What have you done? Why did you do that?” Upon hearing the reason, his anger and confusion melted into tears of joy and thankfulness.

God sometimes uses trials to protect us from ourselves, especially from the naïve enthusiasm that could lead us to disaster. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


God’s Help in Trials

When the time comes, an eagle stirs up the nest and turns her young ones out into mid-air, compelling them to use their wings. In a similar manner, God allows many a human heart to be disturbed by troubles to bring about an urgent sense of need for the Savior. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


God’s Help in Trials

A young boy carried the cocoon of a moth into his house to watch the fascinating events that would take place when the moth emerged. When the moth finally started to break out of his cocoon, the boy noticed how very hard the moth had to struggle. The process was very slow. In an effort to help, he reached down and widened the opening of the cocoon. Soon the moth was out of its prison. But as the boy watched, the wings remained shriveled. Something was wrong. What the boy had not realized was that the struggle to get out of the cocoon was essential for the moth’s muscle system to develop. In a misguided effort to relieve a struggle, the boy had crippled the future of this creature. Trials are necessary for growth. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


God’s Help in Trials

The trials of our faith are like God’s ironing. When the heat of trials are applied to our lives the wrinkles of spiritual immaturity begin to be smoothed out. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


God’s Help in Trials

Bees undergo an interesting process to ensure the healthy development of their young. The queen lays each egg in a six-sided cell, which is filled with enough pollen and honey to feed on until the egg reaches a certain stage of maturity. The top is then sealed with a capsule of wax. When the occupant has exhausted its supply of nourishment, the time has come for the tiny creature to be released from its confinement. But what a wrestling, tussling, and straining it endures to get through the wax seal! The opening is so narrow that in the agony of its exit, the bee rubs off the membrane that encases its wings-so that when it does emerge, it is able to fly.

If an insect were to get into the hive and devour the wax capsules, the young bees could crawl out without any effort or trouble but would be unable to fly. Soon their mature relatives would instinctively proceed to sting them to death.

Christians also need the times of wrestling and straining with trials so that they may be prepared to do God’s will for their life. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


God’s Help in Trials

It is always good to attend church or Bible study and sit and soak up the truth of God’s Word like a sponge. But we must realize that sponges work best when they are squeezed. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


God’s Help in Trials

Paul’s statement in Romans 8:28 that “all things work together for good” sounds like the ingredients for a cake after they have been mixed together. Some of the ingredients used to make a cake taste good by themselves. Other ingredients, such as alum, baking powder, or flour are not very palatable. Nevertheless, they are essential and must be mixed with the good-tasting ingredients to produce a delicious final product.

God can be trusted to take even the bitter experiences of life and blend them together and make them work together for good. God knows which ingredients are needed, and he knows how to mix them to produce the desired result. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


God’s Help in Trials

Wilson Johnson, the founder of Holiday Inn motels, once said, “When I was forty years old I worked in a sawmill. One morning the boss told me I was fired. Depressed and discouraged, I felt like the world had caved in. When I told my wife what had happened, she asked me what I was going to do. I replied, ‘I’m going to mortgage our little home and go into the building business.’ My first venture was the construction of two small buildings. Within five years I was a multimillionaire! At the time it happened, I didn’t understand why I was fired. Later, I saw that it was God’s unerring and wondrous plan to get me into the way of his choosing.” ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


God’s Help in Trials

In his Bible, an elderly minister carried a bookmark that was made of silk threads woven into a motto. The back of the bookmark was a tangled web of crossed threads that seemed to be without reason or purpose. When the minister visited a home or hospital room where there was great trouble, sorrow, or death, he would frequently show the bookmark, first presenting the reverse side with all its unintelligible tangle. When the distressed one had examined it intently without finding any meaning to the seeming disorder, the minister would ask him to turn the fabric over. Immediately, against a white silk background, there appeared a phrase in colored threads: “God Is Love.” That side made sense; it had order and meaning.

So it is in life. We often experience events that seem to be without explanation or meaning, like a maze of tangled threads. But when we are face to face with Christ and can view our life from eternity, we will see that every detail-good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant-was woven together to show us that indeed “God Is Love.” ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


God’s Help in Trials

Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission (now the Overseas Missionary Fellowship), was talking to a young missionary who was about to start work in China. “Look at this,” Taylor said and then proceeded to pound his fist on the table. The tea cups jumped, and the tea was spilled. While the startled young man was wondering what was going on, Taylor said, “When you begin your work, you will be buffeted in numerous ways. The trials will be like blows. Remember, these blows will bring out only what is in you.” ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


God’s Help in Trials

At a cross-country steeplechase exhibition, one horse suddenly shied away from a hurdle and ran into a barbed-wire fence. The results were disaster, as the rider was taken by ambulance to a hospital and the bleeding horse remained ensnarled in the wire until the slow process of cutting it away was completed.

The underlying tragedy was seen in the fact that the jump was a low one, which the horse could have easily cleared. Yet the horse apparently took the fence to be an opening in the course and thus an escape from the obstacle.

How we as believers are often like that foolish horse! When faced with difficulties, do we look for the way out rather than trusting in God’s provision? Do we break for the open at the first opportunity, only to find that we have become ensnared and that our present difficulty is far worse than the one we sought to avoid? ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


God’s Help in Trials

A Malayan boy, after having become a Christian, found himself in the midst of a truly demonic attack in the early weeks of his new Christian walk. Allah had been put behind him and the occult practices that had been woven together with this former Moslem faith had been turned from, but his Christian faith was like a tiny child’s first steps.

This boy went through demon activity, which he had experienced before in his life, and his call went forth to God, “Oh, God, help me.” However, since there was no immediate, visible change, the boy fell into the trap Satan had set for him. “It isn’t working!” was the cry of his heart, and his old reaction pattern came forth: “I’ll try this, and this…” And so next, he called, “Allah be praised!” and then used some Arabic words in a “magic” formula handed down for generations.

The young Christian did not yet know that superstitious “crossing your fingers” is not a sign of faith. He was later to learn the joy and freedom of trusting the power of God alone. Faith asks not in unbelief, but in belief without doubting. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


God’s Help in Trials

Have you ever seen someone break a mustang? When a three-year-old horse who has never had a saddle on his back first feels a saddle, it must be a frightening experience. Some horses will react with anger, rearing back and trying to get away-even striking out with their forefeet at their trainer. Their nostrils flare, their eyeballs roll, and they panic! Others will just stand there, trembling, shaking like a leaf. They won’t move; they’re so afraid. They don’t know what’s happening to them.

Immature Christians respond to trials like wild horses. Some panic and cry out to the Lord, “What’s gone wrong?” Others just freeze and do nothing. Mature Christians are like horses who have learned to trust their trainer. They sense what is happening and respond to it by submitting to the hand of their master, knowing that he will do them no wrong. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


God’s Help in Trials

Trials are not to our detriment but add to our growth. For example, consider the kite flyer. He must take in hand the string of his kite and run until the kite lifts up into the heavens. But he will not reach his goal of a flying kite if there is no wind. Every kite flyer knows that wind is necessary for flying kites. But note that kites do not rise with the wind but rise against it. So it is with trials. The Christian will not ascend to patience and maturity unless he ascends against trials. Do trials make you soar above, or just plain sore? ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


God’s Help in Trials

A carpenter hired to help restore an old farmhouse had just finished up a rough first day on the job. A flat tire had made him lose an hour of work, his electric saw quit, and now his ancient pickup refused to start.

As he rode home with a friend, he sat in stony silence. On arriving, as he walked toward the front door, he paused briefly at a small tree, touching the tips of the branches with both hands. Then, opening the door, he underwent an amazing transformation. His tanned face was wreathed in smiles and he hugged his two small children and gave his wife a kiss.

Why the transformation? The tree in his yard was his “trouble tree.” He knew he couldn’t avoid having troubles on the job, but one thing was for sure-troubles didn’t belong in the house with his wife and children. So he just hung his troubles on the tree every night when he came home and, in the morning, picked them up again. The funny thing was that when he came out in the morning to collect his troubles, there weren’t nearly as many as he remembered hanging up the night before. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


God’s Help in Trials

A lot of Christians have an ejection-seat mentality. As soon as they get into difficulty, they want to pull the ejection cord and zip off into glory, hoping to get away from it all. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


God’s Help in Trials

No pharmacist ever weighed out medicine with half as much care and exactness as God weighs out every trial he dispenses. Not one gram too much does he ever permit to be put on us. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


God’s Help in Trials

In 1895, Andrew Murray was in England suffering from a terribly painful back, the result of an injury he had incurred years before. One morning while he was eating breakfast in his room, his hostess told him of a woman downstairs who was in great trouble and wanted to know if he had any advice for her. Andrew Murray handed her a paper he had been writing on and said, “Give her this advice I’m writing down for myself. It may be that she’ll find it helpful.” This is what was written:

“In time of trouble, say, ‘First, he brought me here. It is by his will I am in this strait place; in that I will rest.’ Next, ‘He will keep me here in his love, and give me grace in this trial to behave as his child.’ Then say, ‘He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me lessons he intends me to learn, and working in me the grace he means to bestow.’ And last, say, ‘In his good time he can bring me out again. How and when, he knows.’ Therefore, say ‘I am here (1) by God’s appointment, (2) in his keeping, (3) under his training, (4) for his time.” ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching



But If Not

        God is able to deliver

              From my weariness and pain,

        And he will deliver swiftly

              If it be for lasting gain;

        But if not-my heart shall sing,

              Trusting wholly in my King.

        God is able to supply me

              With abundance from his store,

        And he will supply my table

              Though the wolf be at the door;

        But if not-my heart shall rest

              In the thought “He knoweth best.”

        God is able to defend my

              From my foes who throng around,

        And he will defend me surely

              When their rage and hate abound;

        But if not-I’ll bless his name,

              And confess him just the same.

        God is able to save dear ones

              From the world and self and sin,

        And he will both save and keep them

              In his fold safe gathered in;

        But if not-he’ll hold my hand,

              Teaching me to understand.

── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Purpose of Testing

        He sat by a furnace of sevenfold heat,

              As he watched by the precious ore;

        And closer he bent, with a searching gaze,

              As he heated it more and more.

        He knew he had ore that could stand the test;

              And he wanted the finest of gold—

        To mold as a crown for the King to wear;

              Set with gems of a price untold.

        So he laid our gold in the burning fire,

              Though we fain would have said him nay;

        And he watched the dross that we had not seen,

              As it melted and passed away.

        And the gold grew brighter, and yet more bright;

              But our eyes were so dim with tears,

        We saw but the fire-not the Master’s hand—

              And questioned with anxious fears.

        Yet our gold shone out with a richer glow,

              As it mirrored a form above

        That bent o’er the fire-though unseen by us—

              With looks of ineffable love.

        Can we think it pleases his loving heart

              To cause us a moment’s pain?

        Ah! No, but he saw through the present loss

              The bliss of eternal gain.

        So he waited there with a watchful eye,

              With a love that is strong and sure;

        And his gold did not suffer a whit more heat,

              Than was needed to make it pure.

── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


God’s Help in Trials

        When God wants to drill a man,

        And thrill a man,

        And skill a man;

        When God wants to mold a man

        To play the noblest part,

        When he yearns with all his heart

        To create so great and bold a man

        That all the world shall be amazed,

        Watch his methods, watch his ways—

        Whom he royally elects.

        How he hammers him and hurts him,

        And with mighty blows, converts him

        Into trial shapes of clay

        Which only God understands,

        While his tortured heart is crying,

        And he lifts beseeching hands.

        How he bends but never breaks

        When his good he undertakes.

        How he uses whom he chooses,

        And with every purpose, fuses him,

        By every act, induces him

        To try his splendor out.

        God knows what he’s about.

── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching



A Christian is like a tea bag-not much good until it has gone through hot water. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching



If God had told me some time ago that he was about to make me happy as I could be in this world, and then had told me that he should begin by crippling me in arm or limb, and removing me from all my usual sources of enjoyment, I should have thought it a very strange mode of accomplishing his purpose. And yet, how is his wisdom manifest even in this! For if you should see a man shut up in a closed room, idolizing a set of lamps and rejoicing in their light, and you wished to make him truly happy, you would begin by blowing out all his lamps, and then throwing open the shutter to let in the light of heaven.— Samuel Rutherford


Reason for Suffering

Suffering can do several things in the life of a believer. First, it can “burn out the dross,” or purify us and lead us to greater holiness of life. But it can also “burn in the promises,” or lead us to a closer dependence on God and his faithful promises to us. Burn it will-but look also at what the burning is for. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Reason for Suffering

There are many benefits in knowing a foreign language. One of the chief benefits lies in the increased ability to understand and be understood. If a person knows only one language, he is tempted to think that everything he communicates is understood. However, if forced to translate an idea into another language, he must consider various possible words to use and their shades of meaning as well as all of the other elements of the language. This effort opens up a door, allowing him to communicate with many new people.

Suffering is like knowing a foreign language, since things that one usually takes for granted in a normal flow of life must be thought through in new ways in a time of suffering. For those who have lived with suffering, a door of ministry is opened wide to a world of hurting people. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Reason for Suffering

The Weaver

        My life is but a weaving between my Lord and me,

        I cannot choose the colors he worketh steadily.

        Oft times he waveth sorrow and I in foolish pride

        Forget he sees the upper and I the underside.

        The dark threads are as needful in the weaver’s skillful hand

        As the threads of gold and silver in the pattern he has planned.

        Not till the loom is silent and the shuttle cease to fly

        Shall God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why.

── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Reason for Suffering

Men seek an explanation of suffering in cause and effect. They look backward for a connection between prior sin and present suffering. The Bible looks forward in hope and seeks explanations, not so much in origins as in goals. The purpose of suffering is seen, not in its cause, but in its results. The man (in John 9:3) was born blind so that the works of God could be displayed in him. – Francis I. Anderson


Reason for Suffering

The following quotation is from a Christian man who has been an invalid all his life, one of those lonely and obscure people who live in constant pain, who do not know what it means to be able to use their physical body in any way without pain and suffering:

“Loneliness is not a thing of itself, not an evil sent to rob us of the joys of life. Loneliness, loss, pain, sorrow, these are disciplines, God’s gifts to drive us to his very heart, to increase our capacity for him, to sharpen our sensitivities and understanding, to temper our spiritual lives so that they may become channels of his mercy to others and so bear fruit for his kingdom. But these disciplines must be seized upon and used, not thwarted. They must not be seen as excuses for living in the shadow of half-lives, but as messengers, however painful, to bring our souls into vital contact with the living God, that our lives may be filled to overflowing with himself in ways that may, perhaps, be impossible to those who know less of life’s darkness.” ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Reason for Suffering

In the midst of the movie The Hiding Place, there is a scene set in the Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany. Corrie ten Boom and her sister, Betsy, are there, along with ten thousand other women, in horrible, degrading, hideous conditions. They are gathered with some of the women in the barracks in the midst of the beds, cold and hungry and lice-ridden, and Betsy is leading a Bible class. One of the other women calls out derisively from her bunk and mocks their worship of God. They fall into conversation, and this woman says what so frequently is flung at Christians: “If your God is such a good God, why does he allow this kind of suffering?” Dramatically she tears off the bandages and old rags that bind her hands, displaying her broken, mangled fingers and says, “I’m the first violinist of the symphony orchestra. Did you God will this?”

For a moment no one answers. Then Corrie ten Boom steps to the side of her sister and says, “We can’t answer that question. All we know is that our God came to this earth, and became one of us, and he suffered with us and was crucified and died. And that he did it for love.” ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Response to Suffering

Several years ago, there was a man going through great physical problems and one of his legs had to be amputated. That did not arrest the course of his disease, and he ultimately died because of it. Just a few days before the man’s death, a minister visited him in the hospital, and the patient said something that perfectly expresses what “rejoicing in suffering” means to a Christian: “I never would have chosen one of the trails that I’ve gone through, but I wouldn’t have missed any of them for the world!”

This man had an awareness that his suffering was something of value. He wouldn’t have missed it! He wouldn’t have chosen it either! That is rejoicing in suffering. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Response to Suffering

An unknown author has written these very appropriate words about suffering:

“It is well that we should think, sometimes, of the Upper Room, and of the Last Supper, and of His soul ‘exceeding sorrowful unto death’; of Gethsemane, the deep shadow of the olive trees, his loneliness, prayers, and disappointment with his disciples, his bloody sweat; the traitor’s kiss, the binding, the blow in the face, the spitting, the buffeting, the mocking, the scourging, the crown of thorns, the smiting; the sorrowful way, and burdensome cross, the exhaustion and collapse; the stripping, the impaling, the jeers of his foes, the flight of his friends; the hours on the cross, the darkness, his being forsaken of God; his thirst, and the end. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Response to Suffering

You may explain to a child all the medical reasons why he must have a shot in the arm, but when the nurse gets ready to plunge that needle into his arm, he runs to Mommy. Comfort comes not in always knowing the reason why, but in knowing the comforter. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Response to Suffering

It is clear from Scripture that”rejocing in suffering” is not simply stoicism. It is not simply a grin-and-bear-it attitude of tough it out and see how much you can take, or just hang in there until it’s over and don’t let anything get you down, or keep of a stiff upper lip. Many people feel that if they do this, they are obeying God and “rejoicing in suffering.” But they are not. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


(see also TRIALS)

Someone asked C.S. Lewis, "Why do the righteous suffer?" "Why not?" he replied. "They're the only ones who can take it."


"Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.

Helen Keller quoted in: Barbara Rowes, The book of Quotes, Dutton.

Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my 75 years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my experience, has been through affliction and not through happiness.

Malcolm Muggeridge, in Homemade, July, 1990.

If we consider the greatness and the glory of the life we shall have when we have risen from the dead, it would not be difficult at all for us to bear the concerns of this world. If I believe the Word, I shall on the Last Day, after the sentence has been pronounced, not only gladly have suffered ordinary temptations, insults, and imprisonment, but I shall also say: "O, that I did not throw myself under the feet of all the godless for the sake of the great glory which I now see revealed and which has come to me through the merit of Christ!"

Martin Luther.

Suffering is the heritage of the bad, of the penitent, and of the Son of God. Each one ends in the cross. The bad thief is crucified, the penitent thief is crucified, and the Son of God is crucified. By these signs we know the widespread heritage of suffering.

Oswald Chambers in Christian Discipline.

Stephen Hawking is an astrophysicist at Cambridge University and perhaps the most intelligent man on earth. He has advanced the general theory of relativity farther than any person since Albert Einstein. Unfortunately, Hawking is afflicted with ALS Syndrome (Lou Gehrig's disease). It will eventually take his life. He has been confined to a wheelchair for years, where he can do little more than sit and think. Hawking has lost the ability even to speak, and now he communicates by means of a computer that is operated from the tiniest movement of his fingertips.

Quoting from an Omni magazine article: "He is too weak to write, feed himself, comb his hair, fix his classes--all this must be done for him. Yet this most dependent of all men has escaped invalid status. His personality shines through the messy details of his existence."

Hawking said that before he became ill, he had very little interest in life. He called it a "pointless existence" resulting from sheer boredom. He drank too much and did very little work. Then he learned he had ALS Syndrome and was not expected to live more than two years. The ultimate effect of that diagnosis, beyond its initial shock, was extremely positive. He claimed to have been happier after he was afflicted than before. How can that be understood? Hawking provided the answer.

"When one's expectations are reduced to zero," he said, "one really appreciates everything that one does have." Stated another way: contentment in life is determined in part by what a person anticipates from it. To a man like Hawking who thought he would soon die quickly, everything takes on meaning--a sunrise or a walk in a park or the laughter of children. Suddenly, each small pleasure becomes precious. By contrast, those who believe life owes them a free ride are often discontent with its finest gifts.

James Dobson, New Man, October, 1994, p. 36.

At the Nicene Council, an important church meeting in the 4th century A.D., of the 318 delegates attending, fewer than 12 had not lost an eye or lost a hand or did not limp on a leg lamed by torture for their Christian faith.

Vance Havner.

Somerset Maugham, the English writer, once wrote a story about a janitor at St Peter's Church in London. One day a young vicar discovered that the janitor was illiterate and fired him. Jobless, the man invested his meager savings in a tiny tobacco shop, where he prospered, bought another, expanded, and ended up with a chain of tobacco stores worth several hundred thousand dollars. One day the man's banker said, "You've done well for an illiterate, but where would you be if you could read and write?" "Well," replied the man, "I'd be janitor of St. Peter's Church in Neville Square."

Bits and Pieces, June 24, 1993, p. 23.

A. Parnell Bailey visited an orange grove where an irrigation pump had broken down. The season was unusually dry and some of the trees were beginning to die for lack of water. The man giving the tour then took Bailey to his own orchard where irrigation was used sparingly. "These trees could go without rain for another 2 weeks," he said. "You see, when they were young, I frequently kept water from them. This hardship caused them to send their roots deeper into the soil in search of moisture. Now mine are the deepest-rooted trees in the area. While others are being scorched by the sun, these are finding moisture at a greater depth."

Our Daily Bread.

A famous evangelist told the following incident: I have a friend who in a time of business recession lost his job, a sizable fortune, and his beautiful home. To add to his sorrow, his precious wife died; yet he tenaciously held to his faith -- the only thing he had left. One day when he was out walking in search of employment, he stopped to watch some men who were doing stonework on a large church. One of them was chiseling a triangular piece of rock. 'Where are you going to put that?' he asked. The workman said, 'Do you see that little opening up there near the spire? Well, I'm shaping this stone down here so that it will fit in up there.' Tears filled my friend's eyes as he walked away, for the Lord had spoken to him through that laborer whose words gave new meaning to his troubled situation.

Our Daily Bread.

Untold suffering seldom is.

Franklin P. Jones in The Saturday Evening Post.

Most of the Psalms were born in difficulty. Most of the Epistles were written in prisons. Most of the greatest thoughts of the greatest thinkers of all time had to pass through the fire. Bunyan wrote Pilgrim's Progress from jail. Florence Nightingale, too ill to move from her bed, reorganized the hospitals of England. Semiparalyzed and under the constant menace of apoplexy, Pasteur was tireless in his attack on disease. During the greater part of his life, American historian Francis Parkman suffered so acutely that he could not work for more than five minutes as a time. His eyesight was so wretched that he could scrawl only a few gigantic words on a manuscript, yet he contrived to write twenty magnificent volumes of history.

Sometimes it seems that when God is about to make preeminent use of a man, he puts him through the fire.

Tim Hansel, You Gotta Keep Dancin', David C. Cook, 1985, p. 87.

The famous preacher D.L. Moody told about a Christian woman who was always bright, cheerful, and optimistic, even though she was confined to her room because of illness. She lived in an attic apartment on the fifth floor of an old, rundown building. A friend decided to visit her one day and brought along another woman -- a person of great wealth. Since there was no elevator, the two ladies began the long climb upward. When they reached the second floor, the well-to-do woman commented, "What a dark and filthy place!" Her friend replied, "It's better higher up." When they arrived at the third landing, the remark was made, "Things look even worse here." Again the reply, "It's better higher up." The two women finally reached the attic level, where they found the bedridden saint of God. A smile on her face radiated the joy that filled her heart. Although the room was clean and flowers were on the window sill, the wealthy visitor could not get over the stark surroundings in which this woman lived. She blurted out, "It must be very difficult for you to be here like this!" Without a moment's hesitation the shut-in responded, "It's better higher up." She was not looking at temporal things. With the eye of faith fixed on the eternal, she had found the secret of true satisfaction and contentment.

Our Daily Bread.

In 1962, Victor and Mildred Goertzel published a revealing study of 413 "famous and exceptionally gifted people" called Cradles of Eminence. They spent years attempting to understand what produced such greatness, what common thread might run through all of these outstanding people's lives. Surprisingly, the most outstanding fact was that virtually all of them, 392, had to overcome very difficult obstacles in order to become who they were.

Tim Hansel, Holy Sweat, 1987, Word Books Publisher, p. 134.

John Donne, a 17th century poet, experienced great pain. Because he married the daughter of a disapproving lord, he was fired from his job as assistant to the Lord Chancellor, yanked from his wife, and locked in a dungeon. (This is when he wrote that succinct line of despair, "John Donne/ Anne Donne/ Undone.") Later, he endured a long illness which sapped his strength almost to the point of death. In the midst of this illness, Donne wrote a series of devotions on suffering which rank among the most poignant meditations on the subject. In one of these, he considers a parallel: The sickness which keeps him in bed forces him to think about his spiritual condition. Suffering gets our attention; it forces us to look to God, when otherwise we would just as well ignored Him.

Adapted from PhilipYancey, Where is God When it Hurts?, p. 58.

On a wall in his bedroom Charles Spurgeon had a plaque with Isaiah 48:10 on it: "I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction." "It is no mean thing to be chosen of God," he wrote. "God's choice makes chosen men choice men...We are chosen, not in the palace, but in the furnace. In the furnace, beauty is marred, fashion is destroyed, strength is melted, glory is consumed; yet here eternal love reveals its secrets, and declares its choice."

W. Wiersbe, Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching & Preachers, p. 223.

When William Sangster was told he was dying of progressive muscular atrophy, he made four resolutions and faithfully kept them: 1) I will never complain; 2) I will keep the home bright; 3) I will count my blessings; 4) I will try to turn it to gain.

W. Wiersbe, Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching & Preachers,  p. 215.

Elena Bonner, wife of Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, says that as he wrote his memoirs she typed, edited, and nursed the work, doing everything she could to make sure it survived seizure by the government. Sakharov worked on his memoirs in Gorky, rewriting sections because they kept vanishing. Then one day he met Elena at the train station and with trembling lips told her, "They stole it." She says he looked like a man who had just learned of the death of a close friend. But after a few days, Sakharov returned to his work. According to his wife, each time he rewrote his memoirs there was something new--something better.

Today in the Word, Moody Bible Institute, January, 1991, p. 34.

A clay pot sitting in the sun will always be a clay pot. It has  to go through the white heat of the furnace to become porcelain.

Mildred Witte Struven, in Bits and Pieces, September 19, 1991, p. 6.

A man found a cocoon of the emperor moth and took it home to watch it emerge. One day a small opening appeared, and for several hours the moth struggled but couldn't seem to force its body past a certain point.

Deciding something was wrong, the man took scissors and snipped the remaining bit of cocoon. The moth emerged easily, its body large and swollen, the wings small and shriveled.

He expected that in a few hours the wings would spread out in their natural beauty, but they did not. Instead of developing into a creature free to fly, the moth spent its life dragging around a swollen body and shriveled wings.

The constricting cocoon and the struggle necessary to pass through the tiny opening are God's way of forcing fluid from the body into the wings. The "merciful" snip was, in reality, cruel. Sometimes the struggle is exactly what we need.

Beth Landers.

Once when Bob Hope received a major award he responded, "I don't deserve this, but then I have arthritis and I don't deserve that either."


B.M. Launderville has written, "The vine clings to the oak during the fiercest of storms. Although the violence of nature may uproot the oak, twining tendrils still cling to it. If the vine is on the side opposite the wind, the great oak is its protection; if it is on the exposed side, the tempest only presses it closer to the trunk. In some of the storms of life, God intervenes and shelters us; while in others He allows us to be exposed, so that we will be pressed more closely to Him."

Today in the Word, April, 1989, p. 17.

Those who know the path to God, can find it in the dark.


Suffering teaches us patience. These words were found penned on the wall of a prison cell in Europe: "I believe in love even when I don't feel it. I believe in God even when He is silent."

Billy Graham, Till Armageddon.

Though many of us have seen pictures of a huge eagle's nest high in the branches of a tree or in the crag of a cliff, few of us have gotten a glimpse inside. When a mother eagle builds her nest she starts with thorns, broken branches, sharp rocks, and a number of other items that seem entirely unsuitable for the project. But then she lines the nest with a thick padding of wool, feathers, and fur from animals she has killed, making it soft and comfortable for the eggs. By the time the growing birds reach flying age, the comfort of the nest and the luxury of free meals make them quite reluctant to leave. That's when the mother eagle begins "stirring up the nest." With her strong talons she begins pulling up the thick carpet of fur and feathers, bringing the sharp rocks and branches to the surface. As more of the bedding gets plucked up, the nest becomes more uncomfortable for the young eagles. Eventually, this and other urgings prompt the growing eagles to leave their once-comfortable abode and move on to more mature behavior.

Today in the Word, June 11, 1989.

David, a 2-year old with leukemia, was taken by his mother, Deborah, to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, to see Dr. John Truman who specializes in treating children with cancer and various blood diseases. Dr. Truman's prognosis was devastating: "He has a 50-50 chance." The countless clinic visits, the blood tests, the intravenous drugs, the fear and pain--the mother's ordeal can be almost as bad as the child's because she must stand by, unable to bear the pain herself. David never cried in the waiting room, and although his friends in the clinic had to hurt him and stick needles in him, he hustled in ahead of his mother with a smile, sure of the welcome he always got. When he was three, David had to have a spinal tap--a painful procedure at any age. It was explained to him that, because he was sick, Dr. Truman had to do something to make him better. "If it hurts, remember it's because he loves you," Deborah said. The procedure was horrendous. It took three nurses to hold David still, while he yelled and sobbed and struggled. When it was almost over, the tiny boy, soaked in sweat and tears, looked up at the doctor and gasped, "Thank you, Dr. Tooman, for my hurting."

Monica Dickens, Miracles of Courage, 1985.

Billie Wilcox, on the lessons of a disaster: While my husband Frank and I were living in Pakistan many years ago, our six-month-old baby died. An old Punjabi who heard of our grief came to comfort us. "A tragedy like this is similar to being plunged into boiling water," he explained. "If you are an egg, your affliction will make you hard-boiled and unresponsive. If you are a potato, you will emerge soft and pliable, resilient and adaptable." It may sound funny to God, but there have been times when I have prayed, "O Lord, let me be a potato."

Guideposts Magazine.

When the emperor Valens threatened Eusebuis with confiscation of all his goods, torture, banishment, or even death, the courageous Christian replied, "He needs not fear confiscation, who has nothing to lose; nor banishment, to whom heaven is his country; nor torments, when his body can be destroyed at one blow; nor death, which is the only way to set him at liberty from sin and sorrow."

When I hear my friends say they hope their children don't have to experience the hardships they went through--I don't agree. Those hardships made us what we are. you can be disadvantaged in many ways, and one way may be not having had to struggle.

William M. Batten, Fortune.

Lengthy Illustrations

When Jewish psychiatrist Victor Frankl was arrested by the Nazis in World War II, he was stripped of everything--property, family, possessions. He had spent years researching and writing a book on the importance of finding meaning in life--concepts that later would be known as logotherapy. When he arrived in Auschwitz, the infamous death camp, even his manuscript, which he had hidden in the lining of his coat, was taken away.

"I had to undergo and overcome the loss of my spiritual child, " Frankl wrote. "Now it seemed as if nothing and no one would survive me; neither a physical nor a spiritual child of my own! I found myself confronted with the question of whether under such circumstances my life was ultimately void of any meaning."

He was still wrestling with that question a few days later when the Nazis forced the prisoners to give up their clothes.

"I had to surrender my clothes and in turn inherited the worn-out rags of an inmate who had been sent to the gas chamber," said Frankl. "Instead of the many pages of my manuscript, I found in the pocket of the newly acquired coat a single page torn out of a Hebrew prayer book, which contained the main Jewish prayer, Shema Yisrael (Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one God. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.)

"How should I have interpreted such a 'coincidence' other than as a challenge to live my thoughts instead of merely putting them on paper?"

Later, as Frankl reflected on his ordeal, he wrote in his book Man's search for Meaning, "There is nothing in the world that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions, as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one's life . . .'He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.'"


In my first film series, "Focus on the Family," I shared a story about a 5-year-old African-American boy who will never be forgotten by those who knew him. A nurse with whom I worked, Gracie Schaeffler, took care of this lad during the latter days of his life. He was dying of lung cancer, which is a terrifying disease in its final stages. The lungs fill with fluid, and the patient is unable to breathe. It is terribly claustrophobic, especially for a small child.

This little boy had a Christian mother who loved him and stayed by his side through the long ordeal. She cradled him on her lap and talked softly about the Lord. Instinctively, the woman was preparing her son for the final hours to come. Gracie told me that she entered his room one day as death approached, and she heard this lad talking about hearing bells. "The bells are ringing, Mommie," he said. "I can hear them."

Gracie thought he was hallucinating because he was already slipping away. She left and returned a few minutes later and again heard him talking about hearing bells ringing. The nurse said to his mother, 'I'm sure you know your baby is hearing things that aren't there. He is hallucinating because of the sickness."

The mother pulled her son closer to her chest, smiled and said, "No, Miss Schaeffler. He is not hallucinating. I told him when he was frightened -- when he couldn't breathe -- if he would listen carefully, he could hear the bells of heaven ringing for him. That is what he's been talking about all day." That precious child died on his mother's lap later that evening, and he was still talking about the bells of heaven when the angels came to take him. What a brave little trooper he was!

Focus on the Family, September, 1993, p. 3.

On February 15, 1947 Glenn Chambers boarded a plane bound for Quito, Ecuador to begin his ministry in missionary broadcasting. But he never arrived. In a horrible moment, the plane carrying Chambers crashed into a mountain peak and spiraled downward. Later it was learned that before leaving the Miami airport, Chambers wanted to write his mother a letter. All he could find for stationery was a page of advertising on which was written the single word "WHY?" Around that word he hastily scribbled a final note. After Chambers's mother learned of her son's death, his letter arrived. She opened the envelope, took out the paper, and unfolded it. Staring her in the face was the questions "WHY?" No doubt this was the questions Jesus' disciples asked when He was arrested, tried, and crucified. And it was probably the questions Joseph of Arimathea asked himself as he approached Pilate and requested the Lord's body (v.58). It must have nagged at him as he wrapped the body in a linen cloth, carried it to his own freshly hewn tomb, and rolled the massive stone into its groove over the tomb's mouth. In the face of his grief, Joseph carried on. He did what he knew he had to do. None of Jesus' relatives were in a position to claim His body for burial, for they were all Galileans and none of them possessed a tomb in Jerusalem. The disciples weren't around to help either. But there was another reason for Joseph's act of love. In Isaiah 53:9, God directed the prophet to record an important detail about the death of His Messiah. The One who had no place to lay His head would be buried in a rich man's tomb. Joseph probably didn't realize that his act fulfilled prophecy. The full answer to the why of Jesus' death was also several days away for Joseph and the others. All he knew was that he was now a disciple of Jesus -- and that was enough to motivate his gift of love.

Today in the Word, April 18, 1992.

A story by Max Lacado

Once there was an old man who lived in a tiny village. Although poor, he was envied by all, for he owned a beautiful white horse. Even the king coveted his treasure. A horse like this had never been seen before -- such was its splendor, its majesty, its strength.

People offered fabulous prices for the steed, but the old man always refused. "This horse is not a horse to me," he would tell them. "It is a person. How could you sell a person? He is a friend, not a possession. How could you sell a friend?" The man was poor and the temptation was great. But he never sold the horse.

One morning he found that the horse was not in the stable. All the village came to see him. "You old fool," they scoffed, "we told you that someone would steal your horse. We warned you that you would be robbed. You are so poor. How could you ever hope to protect such a valuable animal? It would have been better to have sold him. You could have gotten whatever price you wanted. No amount would have been too high. Now the horse is gone, and you've been cursed with misfortune."

The old man responded, "Don't speak too quickly. Say only that the horse is not in the stable. That is all we know; the rest is judgment. If I've been cursed or not, how can you know? How can you judge?"

The people contested, "Don't make us out to be fools! We may not be philosophers, but great philosophy is not needed. The simple fact is that your horse is gone is a curse."

The old man spoke again. "All I know is that the stable is empty, and the horse is gone. The rest I don't know. Whether it be a curse or a blessing, I can't say. All we can see is a fragment. Who can say what will come next?"

The people of the village laughed. They thought that the man was crazy. They had always thought he was a fool; if he wasn't, he would have sold the horse and lived off the money. But instead, he was a poor woodcutter, an old man still cutting firewood and dragging it out of the forest and selling it. he lived hand to mouth in the misery of poverty. Now he had proven that he was, indeed, a fool.

After fifteen days, the horse returned. He hadn't been stolen; he had run away into the forest. Not only had he returned, he had brought a dozen wild horses with him. Once again the village people gathered around the woodcutter and spoke. "Old man, you were right and we were wrong. What we thought was a curse was a blessing. Please forgive us."

The man responded, "Once again, you go too far. Say only that the horse is back. State only that a dozen horses returned with him, but don't judge. How do you know if this is a blessing or not? You see only a fragment. Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge? You read only one page of a book. Can you judge the whole book? You read only one word of a phrase. Can you understand the entire phrase?

"Life is so vast, yet you judge all of life with one page or one word. All you have is a fragment! Don't say that this is a blessing. No one knows. I am content with what I know. I am not perturbed by what I don't."

"Maybe the old man is right," they said to one another. So they said little. But down deep, they knew he was wrong. They knew it was a blessing. Twelve wild horses had returned with one horse. With a little bit of work, the animals could be broken and trained and sold for much money.

The old man had a son, an only son. The young man began to break the wild horses. After a few days, he fell from one of the horses and broke both legs. Once again the villagers gathered around the old man and cast their judgments.

"You were right," they said. "You proved you were right. The dozen horses were not a blessing. They were a curse. Your only son has broken his legs, and now in your old age you have no one to help you. Now you are poorer than ever."

The old man spoke again. "You people are obsessed with judging. Don't go so far. Say only that my son broke his legs. Who knows if it is a blessing or a curse? No one knows. We only have a fragment. Life comes in fragments."

It so happened that a few weeks later the country engaged in war against a neighboring country. All the young men of the village were required to join the army. Only the son of the old man was excluded, because he was injured. Once again the people gathered around the old man, crying and screaming because their sons had been taken. There was little chance that they would return. The enemy was strong, and the war would be a losing struggle. They would never see their sons again.

"You were right, old man," they wept. "God knows you were right. This proves it. Your son's accident was a blessing. His legs may be broken, but at least he is with you. Our sons are gone forever."

The old man spoke again. "It is impossible to talk with you. You always draw conclusions. No one knows. Say only this: Your sons had to go to war, and mine did not. No one knows if it is a blessing or a curse. No one is wise enough to know. Only God knows."

In the Eye of the Storm by Max Lucado, Word Publishing, 1991, pp. 144-147.

Commentary and Devotional

Our point of view is crucial when difficult things happen to us. A great example of a person transforming calamity by his Christlike point of view is David Watson. Watson, a minister in England, died of cancer before these words of his were published:

"It's sometimes only through suffering that we begin to listen to God. Our natural pride and self-confidence have to be stripped painfully away and we become aware, perhaps for the first time, of our own personal needs.

"During the ministry of Jesus on earth, a tower fell in Siloam and killed 18 innocent people. 'Why did God allow it' was the immediate questions pressed by those around Him. Jesus replied, not by answering the question of suffering nor by giving a satisfactory solution to this particular tragedy. Instead, He came back to the practical challenge of God's Word: 'I tell you...unless you repent you will all likewise perish.' It may sound a little bleak, but Jesus was far more concerned with a person's eternal well-being than merely satisfying an intellectual curiosity. Here He was dealing not with the question of 'Why?' but with the question 'What?' 'What is God saying in this calamity?'"

Watson concludes, "Through the unexpected diagnosis of cancer I was forced to consider carefully my priorities in life and to make some necessary adjustments. I still do not know why God allowed it, nor does it bother me. But, I am beginning to hear what God is saying, and this has been enormously helpful to me."

Morning Glory, January 21, 1994.

To choose to suffer means that there is something wrong; to choose God's will even if it means suffering is a very different thing. No healthy saint ever chooses suffering; he chooses God's will, as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not. Be merciful to God's reputation. It is easy to blacken God's character because God never answers back, He never vindicates Himself. Beware of the thought that Jesus needed sympathy in His earthly life; He refused sympathy from others because He knew far too wisely that no one on earth understood what He was going through. Notice God's 'waste' of saints, according to the judgment of the world. God plants His saints in some of the most useless places. We say, 'God intends me to be here because I am so useful.' Jesus never estimated His life along the line of the greatest use. God puts His saints where they will glorify Him most, and we are no judges at all of where that is.

Oswald Chambers.

What problems can do for us:

1. Problems often provide us with greater opportunities
2. Problems can promote our spiritual maturity (Ps 105:16ff)
3. Problems prove our integrity (1 Pt 3:15)
4. Problems produce a sense of dependence
5. Problems prepare our hearts for ministry (more empathetic)

1. Produces character and hope
2. Shows the power of Christ
3. Shows the glory of God
4. Shows what faith can do
5. Teaches dependence on God
6. Enables us to comfort those in trouble
7. Shows the proof of faith
8. Allows us to suffer for the cause of Christ
9. Keeps down pride
10. Suffering can come because of another's sin
11. Suffering can come because we are part of a fallen race
12. Because we reap what we sow
13. For discipline
14. Because of the sovereignty of God
15. Because our enemy wants us to suffer
16. For reasons known only to God



Driving through Texas, a New Yorker collided with a truck carrying a horse. A few months later he tried to collect damages for his injuries. "How can you now claim to have all these injuries?" asked the insurance company's lawyer. "According to the police report, at the time you said you were not hurt." "Look," replied the New Yorker. "I was lying on the road in a lot of pain, and I heard someone say the horse had a broken leg. The net thing I know this Texas Ranger pulls out his gun and shoots the horse. Then he turns to me and asks, 'Are you okay?'"

Reader's Digest, July, 1994, p. 64.

Newspaper reporter phoned a story into his editor about an empty truck that rolled down a hill and smashed into a home. Editor was unimpressed and told reporter he didn't want to run the story. "I'm glad you're taking this so calmly. It was your house."



God hath not promised
Skies ever blue,
Flower-strewn pathways
always for you.
God hath not promised
Sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow,
Peace without pain.
But He hath promised
Strength from above,
Unfailing sympathy,
undying love.


Out of the Darkness
Out of the dark forbidding soil
The pure white lilies grow.
Out of the black and murky clouds,
Descends the stainless snow.
Out of the crawling earth-bound worm
A butterfly is born.
Out of the somber shrouded night,
Behold! A golden morn!
Out of the pain and stress of life,
The peace of God pours down.
Out of the nails -- the spear -- the cross,
Redemption -- and a crown!

Author Unknown.


(see also Tragedy)

He sat by the fire of seven-fold heat,

As He watched by the precious ore.

And closer He bent with a searching gaze

As He heated it more and more.

He knew He had ore that could stand the test

And He wanted the finest gold,

To mold as a crown for the King to wear,

Set with gems of price untold.

So He laid our gold in the burning fire,

Though we fain would have said Him, "Nay."

And He watched the dross that we had not seen,

As it melted and passed away.

And the gold grew brighter, and yet more bright

And our eyes were so dim with tears,

As we saw the fire, not the Master's hand,

And questioned with anxious fear.

Yet our gold shone out with a richer glow,

As it mirrored a Form above

That bent o'er the fire, though unseen by us

With a look of infinite love.

Can we think that it pleases His loving heart

To cause a moment of pain?

Ah, no, but He saw through the present cross

The bliss of eternal gain.

So He waited there with a watchful eye,

With a love that is strong and sure,

And His gold did not suffer a bit more heat

Than was needed to make it pure!

Source Unknown.

Grace is God drawing sinners closer and closer to him. How does God in grace prosecute this purpose? Not by shielding us from assault by the work, the flesh, and the devil, nor by protecting us from burdensome and frustrating circumstance, not yet by shielding us from troubles created by our own temperament and psychology, but rather by exposing us to all these things, so as to overwhelm us with a sense of our own inadequacy, and to drive us to cling to him more closely.

This is the ultimate reason, from our standpoint, why God fills our lives with troubles and perplexities of one sort and another -- it is to ensure that we shall learn to hold him fast. The reason why the Bible spends so much of its time reiterating that God is a strong rock, a firm defense, and a sure refuge and help for the weak is that God spends so much of his time showing us that we are weak, both mentally and morally, and dare not trust ourselves to find or follow the right road. When we walk along a clear road feeling fine, and someone takes our arm to help us, likely we would impatiently shake him off; but when we are caught in rough country in the dark, with a storm brewing and our strength spent, and someone takes our arm to help us, we would thankfully lean on him. And God wants us to feel that our way through life is rough and perplexing, so that we may learn to lean on him thankfully. Therefore he takes steps to drive us out of self-confidence to trust in himself, to -- in the classic scriptural phrase for the secret of the godly man's life -- "wait on the Lord."

James Packer, Your Father Loves You, Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986.

Out of the Darkness

Out of the dark forbidding soil

The pure white lilies grow.

Out of the black and murky clouds,

Descends the stainless snow.

Out of the crawling earth-bound worm

A butterfly is born.

Out of the somber shrouded night,

Behold! A golden morn!

Out of the pain and stress of life,

The peace of God pours down.

Out of the nails -- the spear -- the cross,

Redemption -- and a crown!

Source Unknown.

Chippie the parakeet never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage. The next he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over.

The problems began when Chippie's owner decided to clean Chippie's cage with a vacuum cleaner. She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage. The phone rang, and she turned to pick it up. She'd barely said "hello" when "ssssopp!" Chippie got sucked in.

The bird owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum, and opened the bag. There was Chippie -- still alive, but stunned.

Since the bird was covered with dust and soot, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and held Chippie under the running water. Then, realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do . . . she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air.

Poor Chippie never knew what hit him.

A few days after the trauma, the reporter who'd initially written about the event contacted Chippie's owner to see how the bird was recovering. "Well," she replied, "Chippie doesn't sing much anymore -- he just sits and stares."

It's hard not to see why. Sucked in, washed up, and blown over . . . That's enough to steal the song from the stoutest heart.

Max Lucado, In the Eye of the Storm, Word Publishing, 1991, p. 11.

Doctor to patient: "I have bad news and worse news."

Patient: "So let's have it."

Doctor: "The bad news is that you only have 24 hours to live."

Patient: "I can't imagine what could be worse than that!"

Doctor: "I forgot to tell you yesterday."


Source Unknown.


Louis Albert Banks tells of an elderly Christian man, a fine singer, who learned that he had cancer of the tongue and that surgery was required. In the hospital after everything was ready for the operation, the man said to the doctor, "Are you sure I will never sing again?" The surgeon found it difficult to answer his question. He simply shook his head no. The patient then asked if he could sit up for a moment. "I've had many good times singing the praises of God," he said. "And now you tell me I can never sing again. I have one song that will be my last. It will be of gratitude and praise to God." 

There in the doctor's presence the man sang softly the words of Isaac Watts' hymn, "I'll praise my Maker while I've breath,/ And when my voice is lost in death,/ Praise shall employ my nobler power;/ My days of praise shall ne'er be past,/ While life, and thought, and being last,/ Or immortality endures." 

Our Daily Bread.

The Thames, flowing through London, was at low tide, causing the freighter to be anchored a distance from shore. The long plank, which led from the ship across the mud flats to the bank, suddenly began to jiggle precariously. The smallish man who was carefully pushing his barrow across the plank from the freighter to the shore lost his balance and found himself tumbling into the muddy waters. A roar of laughter erupted from the dockers and from the tall worker on board ship, who had jiggled the plank. The muddied man's instinctive reaction was anger. The fall was painful; he was dripping wet and knee deep in muck."This is your opportunity," a voice whispered in his heart.

The victim, unknown to his tormenters, was a clergyman disguised as a docker in hopes of getting to know how the dockers felt, lived and struggled. Perhaps as he gained their confidence and made friends, he could tell them of the love of the Savior, who died to give them new life and hope and joy.

George Dempster came up laughing. A docker made his way to where Dempster had been dislodged, dropped some empty boxes into the slush and jumped down to help him out.

"You took that all right," he said as he helped Dempster clamber back to the boxes he had dropped. His accent was not that of a cockney. He was no ordinary docker.

Dempster told the story of this unusual docker in Finding Men for Christ. He recounted the ensuing events:

"Did I? Well, what's the use of being otherwise?" I replied and followed this by a challenge.

"You haven't been at this game long."

"Neither have you," he retorted.

"No! And I shan't be at it much longer if I can help it.

Tell me your yarn, and I'll tell you mine."

I was watching his face as well as I could with my eyes still half full of mud. He was trying to scrape some of the slime from me and meanwhile becoming almost as filthy as I was. We agreed to exchange yarns. I therefore proposed that we should adjourn to a coffee shop nearby and over a warm drink exchange the story of our experiences, and how we came to be "down under" life's circumstances.

Along we journeyed through Wapping High Street, up Nightingale Lane to London Docks and so "To where I dossed" (slept).

When we reached the Alley and I indicated the door he said, "Do they let beds here?" "Well," I replied, "I sleep here, come in and see."

"Oh! I've often passed this place but did not know they put men up here."

We entered and I instructed that a cup of coffee and something be brought for my friend, while I disappeared without explaining to anybody exactly how I came to be so inelegantly decorated. Mud baths had not yet become a prescribed treatment for certain human ailments, but never could such a remedy, however well prepared or appropriately prescribed, prove so effectual as this one. It had been involuntarily taken it is true, but for like results who would not undertake even such drastic treatment daily? "His ways are higher than our ways." His permissions are all for somebody's good, and in this instance the reason for His permission was not long unrevealed.

A hurried bath soon put me right. After donning my usual attire, while seeking Divine guidance I hastened to return. "Here we are, now for our yarns," I began. He was staring in amazement and was for a few moments lost for reply. "This is your yarn, is it? What do you do this for?" The first part of his question needed no reply, but I did not hesitate to answer the second. "To find you."

He looked perplexed as we sat gazing at each other; then dropping his eyes before my enquiring look, shook his head sadly and rose as if to depart. Restraining him I said cheerily: "Now, friend, a bargain is a bargain. Thank you for helping me out of the river and thus giving me the privilege of meeting you, but you promised, you know, and I want that story of yours. You can see mine."

He was a tall, well-built man in middle life. There were indications beyond his speech that his years had not been spent in his present conditions and surroundings. His features gave evidence of intellect, and the obvious deterioration was recent. His expression was softening even as we stood facing each other. The previous callous demeanor was giving place to something finer. I pursued the question, feeling certain now that here was the purpose of my adventure.

"Come now, tell me if I can be of help to you."

Very decisively he answered at once, "No, you cannot."


"Because I've gone too far."

As I prayed silently, presently he looked me squarely in the face as if measuring whether he could trust me and confide. No words came, so I continued. "Does it not appeal to you as a very remarkable thing," I asked, "that we should be sitting here like this if you have really gone too far?" No answer.

"Was it an accidental thing that I happened to get a job alongside you at that particular wharf this morning? Was it mere chance that those rascals chose me for their rather cruel joke? Is it pure coincidence that of all the crowd you should be the one to fish me out? Or -- did Someone know where to find you and is even now answering someone else's prayer for you?"

From the pocket he drew hastily two photographs. "These are mine," he said, laying them gently upon the table. One was the picture of a fine-looking lady, the other bore the figures of two bonnie young girls of nearly equal age, obviously the daughters of the elder woman. I was looking closely at them when I heard a groan and then a sob as my friend again dropped his head upon his arms.

"Yours! And you here like this? Why?"

It was a sad story, but, alas, only too familiar. Bit by bit I got it from him; although several times with an almost fierce "it's too late," he would have left me. He was a fully qualified medical man with a fine record. He had married into a well-known family where there was no lack of money. Having conducted a splendid practice in the south of England, all went well for him for years. Two girls were born to them, and it was a happy home with a very wide circle of friends. But as so frequently happens, the allurements proved too strong for the man whose gifts and natural endowments made him a popular and welcome guest wherever he went. He was too busy to continue his regular attendance at church; gradually he ceased altogether and always had plenty of excuses to offer when his wife urged him to accompany her.

The girls were sent away to school where they were educated with a view to following a medical career, but he who should have been their guide and helper failed in his obligations because he had become addicted to drink. At first this fact was hidden, but the habit grew stronger until it mastered him. His practice as well as his home and family were neglected. This naturally led to great unhappiness and depression. In spite of the loving devotion and care of his wife and daughters, he went from bad to worse and finally decided to disappear. So by a number of subterfuges he effectually vanished from the world which knew him and became a wanderer.

After years of wander in America and Canada, he returned to London. He had never been discovered; he had never communicated with his kin. Down, down he went, living the life of a casual hand, sometimes finding a job, sometimes literally begging for food. He slept out at night, often in lodging houses with those with whom he had nothing in common save a degraded and sinful way of life. When he could get drink, he took all he could obtain to drown his sorrows.

Once he was lodged in the Tower Bridge Police cells but was discharged and warned. He had simply been found "drunk and incapable," and his identity had not been revealed. Now this thing had happened, and it could not be explained away by saying it was a coincidence. There was more in it than that. "Someone" had known where to find him. Suppose those three whom he had so shamefully deserted had been all the time praying for his recovery? Recovery that he had so foolishly resisted -- so often longed for -- so often dreamed of.

Suppose it were true that God was now "causing all things to work together for good to them" -- those three -- "that love Him"? Suppose that He was at this moment giving him another -- possibly a last -- chance to return?

Such, he later admitted, were his thoughts, and he began to pray for himself. He had known in past days the comforts and consolations of worship. Now he began to pray very deeply and truly as he heard from a friend the old, old message.

Presently he said calmly, "I see," and kneeling by the table, he and I talked with God. Never can I forget his prayer.

At first the halting, stumbling petition of a brokenhearted repentant sinner who felt acutely two things. First, his base ingratitude to a merciful God Who had not cut him off in the midst of his sins, and then the cruelty of his conduct toward those who loved him on earth. As he confessed his feelings in these ways, he seemed to become capable of clearer utterance.

How long we thus communed I do not know, but we were both much moved as we stood to shake hands. I seemed to feel again his grip on mine as I now record these happenings. "And you will stand by me?"

"Yes," I answered, "as well as another man can."

"Then I'll prove what Christ can do."

We then fell to considering whether it would be advisable to write at once to his wife and tell her the news. "No! Not yet. Please God we'll try and improve matters before we do that. I must find out more about the position there first. There are the girls to think about. I must not spoil their careers. About now they must be in the midst of their exams. No! Please wait a while until by God's help I am a little more like a father they need not be ashamed of -- then!"

So we planned. With the aid of a friend who had influence in a certain large, well-known company, he was found a berth in the warehouse, packing drugs and chemicals. In a few weeks, the results were surprising. He was found to be so useful that a better paid job was offered him. Soon it was discovered that he knew a great deal about the contents of the packets he was handling, and when he admitted that the work of a dispenser was not strange to him, he was again promoted.

It was then that he agreed to my suggestions to write to his wife and inform her that he was alive and well. Very carefully I wrote, telling her something of the events above recorded and suggesting that if she would like to see me on the matter I would gladly arrange to meet her.

A letter came back, breathing deep gratitude to God for His wonderful answer to prayer and for His mercy. An expression of appreciation for the human agency He had provided, and an explanation that the two daughters were facing some difficult hospital examinations. It would therefore, she thought, be best to defer any meeting until they were through. But would I please keep her informed of his progress. It was a wonderfully understanding and gracious letter considering all the circumstances.

I showed him the letter.

He was deeply moved as he carefully and eagerly read it, then returning it to me he said quietly, "I must ask you to honor her wishes. Painful as delay is to me, I must submit. I deserve it and much more. Will you now pray with me that I may prove worthy of her confidence and their love?"

Six months passed, each day bringing continuous evidence of the "new birth" and of his loyalty to Christ. There was no wavering or falling back. Whatever struggles he had with the enemy, no one saw the least evidence of any weakness. In every way he was proving that he was "a new creature," that "old things had passed away."

Two brief notes had come from the wife asking more details than my letters conveyed. I gladly told her all she desire to learn.

Then one day there came a letter asking me to arrange a time for her to visit me. This was soon done, and without telling either of them what I had planned, I made my own arrangements. He was not informed of the impending visit but patiently awaited developments.

In due time the day arrived, and the wife kept her appointment. I instantly recognized the lady of the photograph, and to my intense delight she had brought her elder daughter with her. Both were much affected as I told them as much as I deemed needful of the facts. I felt it would be wise to leave the husband to give his own version of affairs.

Then, at a suitable moment, I said, "Would you like to see him at once?" I had not revealed to them that I had him in an adjoining room. But when the wife and daughter said eagerly together "Yes, please," I opened the door and led them in to him. The lady had approached her husband with a smile of welcome and had kissed him; the daughter had put her arms about her father's neck, and I heard just two words, "Dad, darling."

It was no place for an outsider, so I made for my study and there lay the whole case again before the Father, asking that His will should be done. He heard and answered.

For an hour I left them alone. Then he came to fetch me. His eyes were very red, and I thought he walked with a new and firmer step. No word was said, but he looked his deep gratitude as he beckoned me to return with him.

As I entered the room, the wife approached me with an eager look which spoke eloquently of the tense feelings she had. When, after a few moments, she found voice, it was to tell me that it had been arranged to await the second daughter's examinations, which were just pending. This girl did not yet know the purport of her mother's visit to London that day with the sister, who now told me on top of her own success in the exams, she was overjoyed at finding her father.

"Do dare not tell Margery yet. She is rather highly strung, and as Dad says, it might interfere with her progress. But won't she be just delighted. You know she has never ceased praying for this." So spake the daughter, still holding her father's hand, as if unwilling to part again. It was a most affecting scene, and one felt that there was Another present, rejoicing with us. "If all goes well we shall, please God, make home again when Margery is through, and oh what a day that will be."

The mother was now feeling the stress of it all and needed rest and refreshment. A happy little meal was prepared, and thanks were given to Him Who had thus brought His promises to fulfillment. But the best was yet to be.

A happy home was restored.

In a certain south coast town, a place famous for its exhilarating air and for many of its citizens who have made history, there is held every Sunday afternoon a Bible class for young men. Sixty or more of the finest young fellows in that district meet week by week. It has been the birthplace of many splendid young Christians. Some of them have entered the Civil Service and today hold important positions at Whitehall, where I have had the joy of meeting them.

Coming one day along one of the corridors in the colonial office, I met a friend who said, "I'm very glad to see you today, because I promised that the next time you came this way I would ask you to come along with me and meet a man who wants to see you. He has another friend in the home office who also wants to meet you. Have you the time to do so?"

I assented and was led to the room indicated. Here was a man holding a responsible position who, upon being introduced, said, "I'm glad to meet you, sir, because I have an idea that you must be the gentleman of whom a very dear friend of mine often spoke. May I ask if you were acquainted with Dr. ______?"

"Yes indeed, I know him very well."

"Then I guess you are the one of whom he spoke. I owe everything in life after my own parents to Dr. ______. He was a wonderful factor in the shaping of my career and that of many others. How did you come to know him, sir, if I may so question? And do you know his gifted family?"

Of course I could not tell him under what circumstances I had first met the doctor, the beloved physician who had sat in the leader's chair of that Bible class Sunday by Sunday teaching youths the Way of Life, nor that it was he who had helped me out of the river that day when I had my involuntary mud bath.

From Finding Men for Christ by George Dempster, (London: Hodder & Stroughton, 1935). quoted in Prodigals and Those Who Love Them, Ruth Bell Graham, 1991, Focus on the Family Publishing, pp. 85-94.

A friend of mine awoke one morning to find a puddle of water in the middle of his king-size water bed. In order to fix the puncture, he rolled the heavy mattress outdoors and filled it with more water so he could locate the leak more easily. The enormous bag of water was impossible to control and began rolling on the hilly terrain. He tried to hold it back, but it headed downhill and landed in a clump of bushes which poked it full of holes.

Disgusted, my friend threw out the water-bed frame and moved a standard bed into his room. The next morning, he awoke to find a puddle of water in the middle of the new bed. The upstairs bathroom had a leaky drain. 

Reader's Digest, March, 1993, p. 123.

While assembling their new water bed, my sister Betty and her husband, Everett, realized they would need a hose. Everett dashed to the hardware store and bought one. They attached it to the bed, ran it through the apartment to the kitchen tap and left to wait for the bed to fill. About an hour later they checked on its progress. That's when they discovered Everett had bought a sprinkler hose. 

Reader's Digest, March, 1993, p. 123.

Good Timber

The tree that never had to fight

For sun and sky and air and light,

That stood out in the open plain

And always got its share of rain,

Never became a forest king

But lived and died a scrubby thing.

The man who never had to toil

To heaven from the common soil,

Who never had to win his share

Of sun and sky and light and air,

Never became a manly man,

But lived and died as he began.

Good timber does not grow in ease;

The stronger wind, the tougher trees;

The farther sky, the greater length;

The more the storm, the more the strength;

By sun and cold, by rain and snows,

In tree or man, good timber grows.

Where thickest stands the forest growth

We find the patriarchs of them both;

And they hold converse with the stars

Whose broken branches show the scars

Of many winds and of much strife --

This is the common law of life.

Douglas Malloch, quoted in Resource, Sept./Oct., 1992, p 7.

How you can tell when it's going to be a rotten day:

You wake up face down on the pavement.

You call Suicide Prevention and they put you on hold.

You see a "60 Minutes" news team waiting in your office.

Your birthday cake collapses from the weight of the candles.

You turn on the news and they're showing emergency routes out of the city.

Your twin sister forgot your birthday.

Your car horn goes off accidentally and remains stuck as you follow a group of Hell's Angels on the freeway.

Your boss tells you not to bother to take off your coat.

The bird singing outside your window is a buzzard.

You wake up and your braces are locked together.

You call your answering service and they tell you it's none of your business.

Your income tax check bounces.

You put both contact lenses in the same eye.

Your wife says, "Good morning, Bill", and your name is George.

Source Unknown.

I humbly bless his gracious Providence, who gave me his Treasure in an Earthen Vessel, and trained me up on the School of Affliction, and taught me the Cross of Christ so soon; that I might be rather Theologus Crucis, as Luther speaketh, than Theologus Gloriae; and a Cross-bearer, than a Cross-maker or Imposer. 

Richard Baxter in Reliquiae Baxterianae; or Narrative of His Life and Times, I, 21. quoted in Christianity Today, March 9, 1992, p. 45.

"I often wish that I could lie down and sleep without waking. But I will fight it out if I can." So wrote one of the bravest, most inspiring men who ever lived, Sir Walter Scott. In his 56th year, failing in health, his wife dying of an incurable disease, Scott was in debt a half million dollars. A publishing firm he had invested in had collapsed. He might have taken bankruptcy, but shrank from the stain. From his creditors he asked only time. Thus began his race with death, a valiant effort to pay off the debt before he died.

To be able to write free from interruptions, Scott withdrew to a small rooming house in Edinburgh. He had left his dying wife, Charlotte behind in the country.

"It withered my heart," he wrote in his diary, but his presence could avail her nothing now. A few weeks later she died. After the funeral he wrote in his diary: "Were an enemy coming upon my house, would I not do my best to fight, although oppressed in spirits; and shall a similar despondency prevent me from mental exertion? It shall not, by heaven!"

With a tremendous exercise of will, he returned to the task, stifling his grief. He turned out Woodstock, Count Robert of Paris, Castle Dangerous, and other works. Though twice stricken with paralysis, he labored steadily until the fall of 1832. Then came a merciful miracle. Although his mental powers had left him, he died September 21, 1832, happy in the illusion that all his debts were paid. (They were finally paid in 1847 with the sale of all his copyrights.)

Thomas Carlyle was to write of him latter: "No sounder piece of British manhood was put together in the eighteenth century of time."

Bits & Pieces, August 20, 1992, p. 16-18.

My life is but a weaving between my Lord and me. I cannot choose the colors He worketh steadily. Oft times he weaveth sorrow and I in foolish pride forget He sees the upper and I the underside. Not till the loom is silent and the shuttle ceases to fly shall God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why.

Source Unknown.

He knows not his own strength that hath not met adversity. 

Ben Jonson.

One man's life provides a dramatic answer to the question, can God indeed bring positives out of troubled times? This young man's name is David, and he is an awesome picture of God's using difficulties for good. For years he viewed trials as something that affected only his external world, and any blow to what he owned or how he looked would discourage him and leave him feeling cheated. Today, David travels around the world, talking with people about how he discovered that no matter what happens to the outside, it's the internal life that trials really touch. Just like what happened in Jerry's life (whose story we shared in the last chapter), the bigger the trial, the more potential to see God's power and peace at work in the inner person. 

During the Vietnam War, David went through rigorous training to become part of the ultra elite special forces team the Navy used on dangerous search-and-destroy missions. During a nighttime raid on an enemy stronghold, David experienced the greatest trial of his life. When he and his men were pinned down by enemy machine-gun fire, he pulled a phosphorus grenade from his belt and stood up to throw it. But as he pulled back his arm, a bullet hit the grenade, and it exploded next to his ear.

Lying on his side on the bank of a muddy river, he watched part of his face float by. His entire face and shoulder alternately smoldered and caught on fire as the phosphorus that had embedded itself in his body came into contact with the air. David knew that he was going to die, yet miraculously he didn't. He was pulled from the water by his fellow soldiers, flown directly to Saigon, and then taken to a waiting plane bound for Hawaii. 

But David's problems were just beginning. When he first went into surgery -- the first of what would become dozens of operations -- the surgical team had a major problem during the operation. As they cut away tissue that had been burned or torn by the grenade, the phosphorus would hit the oxygen in the operating room and begin to ignite again! Several times the doctors and nurses ran out of the room, leaving him alone because they were afraid the oxygen used in surgery would explode! Incredibly, David survived the operation and was taken to a ward that held the most severe burn and injury cases from the war. 

Lying on his bed, his head the size of a basketball, David knew he presented a grotesque picture. Although he had once been a handsome man, he knew he had nothing to offer his wife or anyone else because of his appearance. He felt more alone and more worthless than he had ever felt in his life. But David wasn't alone in his room. There was another man who had been wounded in Vietnam and was also a nightmarish sight. He had lost an arm and a leg, and his face was badly torn and scarred. As David was recovering from surgery, this man's wife arrived from the States. When she walked into the room and took one look at her husband, she became nauseated. She took off her wedding ring, put it on the nightstand next to him, and said, "I'm so sorry, but there's no way I could live with you looking like that." And with that, she walked out the door. He could barely make any sounds through his torn throat and mouth, but the soldier wept and shook for hours. Two days later, he died. That woman's attitude represents in many respects the way the world views a victim of accident or injury. If a trial emotionally or physically scars someone or causes him to lose his attractiveness, the world says "Ugly is bad," and consequently, any value that person feels he has to others is drained away. For this poor wounded soldier, knowing that his wife saw no value in him was more terrible than the wounds he suffered. It blew away his last hope that someone, somewhere, could find worth in him because he knew how the world would perceive him. 

Three days later, David's wife arrived. After watching what had happened with the other soldier, he had no idea what kind of reaction she would have toward him, and he dreaded her coming. His wife, a strong Christian, took one look at him, came over, and kissed him on the only place on his face that wasn't bandaged. In a gentle voice she said, "Honey, I love you. I'll always love you. And I want you to know that whatever it takes, whatever the odds, we can make it together." She hugged him where she could to avoid disturbing his injuries and stayed with him for the next several days. Watching what had happened with the other man's wife and seeing his own wife's love for him gave David tremendous strength. More than that, her understanding and accepting him greatly reinforced his own relationship with the Lord. 

In the weeks and months that followed, David's wounds slowly but steadily healed. It took dozens of operations and months of agonizing recovery, but today, miraculously, David can see and hear. On national television, we heard David make an incredible statement. I am twice the person I was before I went to Vietnam. For one thing, God has used my suffering to help me feel other people's pain and to have an incredible burden to reach people for Him. The Lord has let me have a worldwide, positive effect on people's lives because of what I went through. I wouldn't trade anything I've gone through for the benefits my trials have had in my life, on my family's life and on countless teenagers and adults I've had the opportunity to influence over the years. David experienced a trial that no parents would wish on their children. Yet in spite of all the tragedy that surrounded him, God turned his troubled times into fruitful ones. 

Gary Smalley and John Trent, Ph.D., The Gift of Honor, pp. 56-58.

"I am progressing along the path of life in my ordinary contented condition, when suddenly a stab of pain threatens serious disease, or a newspaper headline threatens us all with destruction.

"At first I am overwhelmed, and all my little happiness look like broken toys. And perhaps, by God's grace, I succeed, and for a day or two become a creature consciously dependent on God and drawing its strength from the right sources. But the moment the threat is withdrawn, my whole nature leaps back to the toys.

"Thus the terrible necessity of tribulation in only too clear. God has had me for but 48 hours and then only by dint of taking everything else away from me. Let Him but sheathe the sword for a minute, and I behave like a puppy when the hated bath is over -- I shake myself as dry as I can and race off to reacquire my comfortable dirtiness in the nearest flower bed.

"And that is why tribulation cannot cease until God sees us remade." 

From The Problem of Pain; used by permission of William Collins Sons and Co., Ltd. quoted in Daily Walk, May 16/17, 1992.

Lord, I've never moved a mountain and I guess I never will. All the faith that I could muster wouldn't move a small ant hill. Yet I'll tell you, Lord, I'm grateful for the joy of knowing Thee, and for all the mountain moving down through life You've done for me.

When I needed some help you lifted me from the depths of great despair. And when burdens, pain and sorrow have been more than I can bear, you have always been my courage to restore life's troubled sea, and to move these little mountains that have looked so big to me.

Many times when I've had problems and when bills I've had to pay, and the worries and the heartaches just kept mounting every day, Lord, I don't know how you did it. Can't explain the wheres or whys. All I know, I've seen these mountains turn to blessings in disguise.

No, I've never moved a mountain, for my faith is far too small. Yet, I thank you, Lord of Heaven, you have always heard my call. And as long as there are mountains in my life, I'll have no fear, for the mountain-moving Jesus is my strength and always near.

Source Unknown.

He never fails the soul that trusts in Him;

Tho' disappointments come and hope burns dim,

He never fails.

Tho' trials surge like stormy seas around,

Tho' testings fierce like ambushed foes abound,

Yet this my soul, with millions more has found,

He never fails; He never fails.

He never fails the soul that trusts in Him;

Tho' angry skies with thunder-clouds grow grim,

He never fails.

Tho' icy blasts life's fairest flow'rs lay low,

Tho' earthly springs of joy all cease to flow,

Yet still 'tis true, with millions more I know,

He never fails; He never fails.

He never fails the soul that trusts in Him;

Tho' sorrow's cup should overflow the brim,

He never fails.

Tho' oft the pilgrim way seems rough and long,

I yet shall stand amid yon white-robed throng,

And there I'll sing, with millions more, this song--

He never fails; He never fails.

J.S. Baxter, Explore The Book.

A clay pot sitting in the sun will always be a clay pot. It has to go through the white heat of the furnace to become porcelain.

Mildred Witte Struven, Bits and Pieces, September 19, 1991, p.6.

First, He brought me here, it is by His will I am in this strait place: in that fact I will rest.

Next, He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace to behave as His child.

Then, He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow.

Last, In His good time He can bring me out again--how and when He knows.

Let me say I am here, (1) By God's appointment, (2) In His keeping, (3) Under His training, (4) For His time.

Andrew Murray, quoted in Though the Mountains Shake, by Amy Carmichael, p. 12.

The hills ahead look steep and high,

And often we behold them with a sigh;

But as we near them level grows the road,

We find on every slope, with every load,

The climb is not so steep, the top so far.

The hills ahead look harder than they are.

Douglas Malloch.

I am not a connoisseur of great art, but from time to time a painting or picture will really speak a clear, strong message to me. Some time ago I saw a picture of an old burned-out mountain shack. All that remained was the chimney...the charred debris of what had been that family's sole possession. In front of this destroyed home stood an old grandfather-looking man dressed only in his underclothes with a small boy clutching a pair of patched overalls. It was evident that the child was crying. Beneath the picture were the words which the artist felt the old man was speaking to the boy. They were simple words, yet they presented a profound theology and philosophy of life. Those words were, "Hush child, God ain't dead!" 

That vivid picture of that burned-out mountain shack, that old man, the weeping child, and those words "God ain't dead" keep returning to my mind. Instead of it being a reminder of the despair of life, it has come to be a reminder of hope! I need reminders that there is hope in this world. In the midst of all of life's troubles and failures, I need mental pictures to remind me that all is not lost as long as God is alive and in control of His world. 

James DeLoach, associate pastor of the Second Baptist Chruch of Houston, quoted in When God Was Taken Captive, W. Aldrich, Multnomah, 1989, p. 24.

In 1924, two climbers were part of an expedition that set out to conquer Mount Everest. As far as is known, they never reached the summit; and they never returned. Somewhere on that gigantic mountain they were overpowered by the elements and died. After the failure of the expedition, the rest of the party returned home. Addressing a meeting in London, one of those who returned described the ill-fated adventure. He then turned to a huge photograph of Mount Everest, mounted on the wall behind him.

"Everest," he cried, "we tried to conquer you once, but you overpowered us. We tried to conquer you a second time, but again you were too much for us. But, Everest, I want you to know that we are going to conquer you, for you can't grow any bigger, and we can!" 

Gene Getz, Doing Your Part, Regal, 1984, pp. 152-3.

Never attempt to bear more than one kind of trouble at once. Some people bear three kinds--all they have had, all they have now and all they expect to have. 

Edward Everett Hale.

A funny thing happened in Darlington, Maryland, several years ago. Edith, a mother of eight, was coming home from a neighbor's house one Saturday afternoon. Things seemed too quiet as she walked across her front yard. Curious, she peered through the screen door and saw five of her youngest children huddled together, concentrating on something. As she crept closer to them, trying to discover the center of attention, she could not believe her eyes. Smack dab in the middle of the circle were five baby skunks. Edith screamed at the top of her voice, "Quick, children...run!" Each kid grabbed a skunk and ran.

Swindoll, The Quest for Character, Multnomah, p. 192.

After William Carey was well established in his pioneer missionary work in India, his supporters in England sent a printer to assist him. Soon the two men were turning out portions of the Bible for distribution. Carey had spent many years learning the language so that he could produce the scriptures in the local dialect. He had also prepared dictionaries and grammars for the use of his successors. 

One day while Carey was away, a fire broke out and completely destroyed the building, the presses, many Bibles, and the precious manuscripts, dictionaries, and grammars. When he returned and was told of the tragic loss, he showed no sign of despair or impatience. Instead, he knelt and thanked God that he still had the strength to do the work over again. He started immediately, not wasting a moment in self-pity. Before his death, he had duplicated and even improved on his earlier achievements.

Source Unknown.

Joe Scriven was a missionary from Ireland to Canada, working among the Iroquois Indians. He was joined by his fianc?who was also from Ireland. Just before the wedding, she was killed in an ice accident. Joe buried her with his own hands, and a broken heart. A year later, in a letter to his mother, he reflected,

"What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged. Take it to the Lord in prayer." Joe was on the road to triumph, even though there were times when the road was rough.

Source Unknown.

On December 29, 1987, a Soviet cosmonaut returned to the earth after 326 days in orbit. He was in good health, which hasn't always been the case in those record-breaking voyages. Five years earlier, touching down after 211 days in space, two cosmonauts suffered from dizziness, high pulse rates, and heart palpitations. They couldn't walk for a week, and after 30 days, they were still undergoing therapy for atrophied muscles and weakened hearts.  At zero gravity, the muscles of the body begin to waste away because there is no resistance. To counteract this, the Soviets prescribed a vigorous exercise program for the cosmonauts. They invented the "penguin suit," a running suit laced with elastic bands. It resists every move the cosmonauts make, forcing them to exert their strength. Apparently the regimen is working.

We often long dreamily for days without difficulty, but God knows better. The easier our life, the weaker our spiritual fiber, for strength of any kind grows only by exertion.

Craig Brian Larson.

The Scriptures often exhort us to be filled with various godly virtues--which means what? How do we know if we are "full of goodness" (Rom. 15:14), for example? Think a moment about a water-saturated sponge. If we push down with our finger even slightly, water runs out onto the table. We immediately know what fills the interior pockets of the sponge. The same is true of ourselves. We can tell what fills us on the inside by what comes out under pressure.

Robert Schmidgall.

In adversity we usually want God to do a removing job when He wants to do an improving job. To realize the worth of the anchor, we need to feel the storm.

Source Unknown.

Officer Jim Heimerl , a Minneapolis policeman, was taking part in a 16.3 mile run in Grantsburg, Wisconsin. Jim was four miles into the race, in a cluster of runners not far off the pace of

the leaders, when two deer ambled out of the woods and onto the road. The startled buck, no doubt distressed to find himself in the middle of a human marathon, began zigzagging wildly through the runners. Jim didn't even see the animal until the two of them collided and sprawled together onto the asphalt highway. Jim fell flat on his face, received a concussion and opened a nasty gash on his forehead that required 23 stitches.


 "Luckily there was a doctor running the race not far behind me," Jim reported. "Because of the way my heart was pumping from running, I lost a lot of blood in a hurry. The doctor applied pressure and got it stopped." The buck, however, paid an even higher price for his encounter. The collision broke his leg and his back, and the only humane response was to quickly dispense him to the ranks of the deerly departed. Jin had already been admitted to a nearby hospital for repairs when state game officials called to tell him Wisconsin law holds that anyone who hits and kills a deer on a Wisconsin roadway can claim the deer. But since he didn't feel up to dealing with a dead deer, and since he didn't want to store the carcass in his station wagon in 80-degree heat while he recuperated overnight in the hospital, Jim declined the offer. 


He lamented his luck. "I hunt deer for 14 years without getting a thing, and then I get one while I'm running a race."


Source Unknown.


A.J. Gordon noted that if you tear down a sparrow's nest the little bird will build again in the same place. However, if you pull it down several times, she will seek a new location--a shelter higher up--where it will be less vulnerable. Gordon then observed that Christians are not always so wise. They form dwelling places of happiness and hope in this temporal world, only to see them pulled down time after time. Yet after each brief interval of sighs and tears, they begin building all over again in the same way. They never realize that through their defeats the Lord is directing them to put their security in Him.

Samuel Rutherford once wrote, "If God had told me some time ago that he was about to make me as happy as I could be in this world, and then had told me that he should begin by crippling me in arm or limb, and removing me from all my usual sources of enjoyment, I should have thought it a very strange mode of accomplishing his purpose. And yet, how is his wisdom manifest even in this! For if you should see a man shut up in a closed room, idolizing a set of lamps and rejoicing in their light, and you wished to make him truly happy, you would begin by blowing out all his lamps, and then throwing open the shutter to let in the light of heaven." 

Today in the Word, September,1989, p. 16.

1) trouble seems to be woven into the fabric of living (Job 14:1). 2) many of our distresses are caused by our own sin and foolishness (Prov. 21:23, Ps. 78:32-3). 3) some difficulties are created by other people (Ps. 9:13). 4) God allows trouble but is always in control (2 Chr. 29:8). 5) we have a refuge and strong defense in the Lord (Ps. 59:16). 6) He invites us to call upon Him in our distresses (Ps. 50:15). 7) we can expect deliverance in keeping with His will (Ps 107:6, 143:11).

Source Unknown.

Having lost in a fire virtually everything they owned, the Spafford family made new plans, including a move from Chicago to France. Horatio Spafford planned the trip for his wife and four daughters to be as trouble-free as possible. To transport them from America to France, he booked passage on a huge ship, and made sure they had Christians with whom to fellowship in route. He planned to join them a few weeks later. In spite of much careful preparation, Mr. Spafford's plans suddenly dissolved when the ship carrying his loved ones was rammed by another vessel and sank, carrying his four beloved daughters to the bottom. Anyone who has ever had their plans disrupted by the hand of God can understand Spafford's plight. The next time you are in church,turn to the words of the great hymn, "It Is Well With My Soul"--words he penned as his ship passed over the watery grave of his four daughters! 

Today in the Word, July, 1989, p. 27.

God has not promised skies always blue,

Flower-strewn pathways all our life through;

God has not promised sun without rain,

Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

But God has promised strength for the day,

Rest for the labor, light for the way;

Grace for the trials, help from above,

Unfailing sympathy, undying love.


Source Unknown.

A small girl had been promised the privilege of climbing to a nearby hilltop where her brother enjoyed playing. But when she came within sight of the steep, rough path, she drew back in dismay. "Why, there isn't a smooth spot anywhere. It's all bumpy and stony!" she exclaimed. 

"Yes," said her more experienced older brother, "but how else would we ever climb to the top if it wasn't? The stones and bumps are what we step on to get there."

Source Unknown.

Mishaps are like knives, that either serve us or cut us, as we grasp them by the blade or the handle. 

J.R. Lowell.

God brings men into deep waters not to drown them but to cleanse them.

Source Unknown.

Vance Havner told a story about an elderly lady who was greatly disturbed by her many troubles--both real and imaginary.  Finally, someone in her family tactfully told her, "Grandma, we've done all we can for you. You'll just have to trust God for the rest." A look of absolute despair spread over her face as she replied, "Oh dear, has it come to that?" Havner commented, "It always comes to that, so we might as well begin with that!"

Vance Havner.

When God wants to drill a man,

And thrill a man,

And skill a man,

When God wants to mold a man

To play the noblest part;

When He yearns with all His heart

To create so great and bold a man

That all the world shall be amazed,

Watch His methods, watch His ways!

How He ruthlessly perfects

Whom He royally elects!

How He hammers him and hurts him,

And with mighty blows converts him

Into trial shapes of clay which

Only God understands;

While his tortured heart is crying

And he lifts beseeching hands!

How He bends but never breaks

When his good He undertakes;

How He uses whom He chooses,

And with every purpose fuses him;

By every act induces him

To try His splendor out--

God knows what He's about.

Source Unknown.

The supreme blessing in which one can truly know the goodness of God is not temporal possessions, but the eternal blessing that God has called us to--His holy gospel. In this gospel we hear that God will be gracious to us for the sake of His Son, will forgive and eternally save us, and will protect us in this life against the tyranny of the Devil and the world. To someone who properly appreciates this blessing, everything else is a trifle.

Though he is poor, sick, despised, and burdened with adversities, he sees that he keeps more than he has lost. If he has no money and goods, he knows nevertheless that he has a gracious God; if his body is sick, he knows that he is called to eternal life. His heart has this constant consolation: Only a short time, and everything will be better." 

Martin Luther, quoted in Closer Walk, July, 1988, p. 9.

Christ was despised on earth by men, and in his greatest need, amid insults, was abandoned by those who knew him and by friends; and you dare to complain of anyone? Christ had his adversaries and slanderers; and you wish to have everyone as friends and benefactors? Whence will your patience win its crown if it has encountered nothing of adversity? 

Thomas Kempis, The Imitation of Christ.

By the age of 5, Beethoven was playing the violin under the tutelage of his father--also an accomplished musician. By the time he was 13, Beethoven was a concert organist. In his 20s he was already studying under the very watchful eyes of Haydn and Mozart. In fact, Mozart spoke prophetic words when he declared that Beethoven would give the world something worth listening to by the time his life ended. As Beethoven began to develop his skills, he became a prolific composer. During his lifetime, he wrote nine majestic symphonies and five concertos for piano, not to mention numerous pieces of chamber music. Ludwig van Beethoven also wrote sonatas and pieces for violin and piano. He has thrilled us with the masterful works of unique harmony that broke with the traditions of his times. 

The man was a genius. Beethoven was not, however, a stranger to difficulties. During his twenties, he began to lose his hearing. His fingers "became thick," he said on one occasion. He couldn't feel the music as he once had. His hearing problem haunted him in the middle years of his life, but he kept it a well-guarded secret. When he reached his fifties, Beethoven was stone deaf. Three years later he made a tragic attempt to conduct an orchestra and failed miserably. Approximately five years later, he died during a fierce thunder storm. He was deaf, yet a magnificent musician.

On one occasion, Beethoven was overheard shouting at the top of his voice as he slammed both fists on the keyboard, "I will take life by the throat!" 

Swindoll, Hand me another brick, p. 190-191.

You will have no test of faith that will not fit you to be a blessing if you are obedient to the Lord. I never had a trial but when I got out of the deep river I found some poor pilgrim on the bank that I was able to help by that very experience."

A.B. Simpson