Posts

Jesus Didn’t Just Come to Die

It was the start of the Holy Week. But he was withdrawn, quiet, and visibly tired. Though he had his ups and downs, I had never seen him more downcast than this.

Upon probing, he shared that there wasn’t one specific cause; he just seemed to have lost joy in life in general. Small things irked him and good things no longer excited him. And even though he tried to read the Bible, he couldn’t hear God speaking to him.

“I think I’m burned out,” my colleague finally concluded. I tried to give him advice and said a prayer for him. Aside from that, there seemed little I could do about his situation.

The same day, I received another piece of news. A friend of mine had to take an urgent flight back to his home country because his father-in-law had suddenly passed away.

A couple of days later, I learned that another friend’s grandmother had been warded in hospital because her throat cancer had worsened; the prognosis sounded bad.

Though it was the week leading up to Good Friday, it didn’t feel any different from any other week. And I couldn’t help but recall how it was exactly during the week of Good Friday, five years ago, that I went through the most difficult period of my life. Then, I was facing immense pressure at work when, out of the blue, my own father suffered a massive stroke.

Holy week or not, it seemed to make little difference; the trials and difficulties of life wouldn’t let up.

But who said they would? I suddenly heard myself ask.

Holy week or not, we still live in a sinful world abounding with troubles and pain. Every day, people are crying, struggling, suffering, dying—and there seems to be no end in sight.

But what makes the world of difference is this: It was into this exact same sin-filled world that Jesus entered more than 2,000 years ago to die on the cross, in our place, for our sins.

Sometimes as, we mull over the significance of Jesus’ death, we may gloss over the fact that Jesus didn’t just come to die—He came to suffer. During his earthly life, Jesus was not exempt from the trials and hardships that we go through today. Our Redeemer, Savior, and Lord, was also “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53:3).

And that makes a whole lot of difference to the lives we are living right now.

How? Regardless of what life throws at us in whatever season, we can rest assured that there is someone out there who knows exactly what we’re facing. Because He’s personally gone through it all.

So if you’ve been diagnosed with a medical condition, remember Jesus, who lived every day of His life acutely aware that He would die an imminent and cruel death (Matt 16:21).

If you’re struggling to accept God’s will (perhaps things are not going the way you want at work or at home), remember Jesus pleading with God in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42).

If your friends have betrayed or left you, remember Jesus, who was betrayed by His beloved disciple Judas (Luke 22:3-6).

If you’ve been wrongly accused or called names, remember Jesus, who was falsely accused before Pilate and Herod (Luke 23:2, 10).

If you’ve lost all you have, remember Jesus, who gave up His heavenly throne to enter our broken world (Phil 2:6-8).

If you’ve been deprived of your rights, remember Jesus, who was stripped of His for our sake (Phil 2:6-8).

If you’re going through physical pain, remember Jesus hanging on the cross (Isaiah 53:4-5).

If you’re feeling abandoned by God, remember Jesus, who was forsaken by God on the cross (Matt 27:46).

Remember Jesus.

Remember that He died to give us a way to live.

Remember, too, that He lived to show us the way to live.

This Good Friday, as we remember His death on the cross, let’s also pour our hearts to Him and approach Jesus with confidence, knowing that He understands and will give us the mercy and grace to face our trials. (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Walking With Suffering Friends

Written By Chong Shou En, Singapore

Confidante. A shoulder to cry on. Bosom buddy. We’ve all needed these people, and played these roles too at different times in our lives.

It isn’t a role to be taken lightly, however. When people are at their most vulnerable, that’s often when whatever we say or do can have the biggest impact. Well-intentioned but incorrect or insensitive words and actions can damage, put off, or discourage the very friends turning to us for comfort and support.

Have you ever come across the phrase “Job’s comforter”? According to Google, it means someone who “aggravates distress under the guise of giving comfort.” If you’re familiar with the Bible story of Job, you can probably guess that this phrase is in reference to Job’s three friends who, instead of providing Job the support and comfort he needed through the suffering he was facing, gave him much grief by accusing and criticizing him.

Yet, there is much we can learn from the account of Job when it comes to journeying with friends through their difficult times.

 

1. Reach out

Job was a righteous and blameless man, blessed by God with a large family and great wealth. One day, God allowed Satan to strike Job in order to see how he would react. In a short period, Job lost all his children and possessions, and was afflicted with sickness to boot. Then, three of Job’s friends came to visit him.

“When Job’s three friends. . . heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him” (Job 2:11). These friends even tore their clothes as an expression of grief and spent seven days in silent vigil with Job (Job 2:12-13).

This level of sincerity and sensitivity is admirable, and certainly something we can learn from. We too should be brave and bold to take the first step to approach friends in need and accompany them.

 

2. Don’t judge

Though Job’s friends got off to a good start, they came to be known as terrible friends.

Though they did a good job keeping quiet the first seven days, the problem started when they opened their mouths. Instead of comforting and encouraging Job, these friends judged him.

And boy did they judge him hard. These three friends took it upon themselves to tell Job how he had sinned and deserved all this suffering that he brought upon himself, even though the Bible said he was “blameless and upright” (Job 1:1).

These friends called him presumptuous, wicked, and lacking fear of God. They even suggested that Job enjoyed his wrongdoing (Job 20:12), and that his sons deserved the calamity that struck them down (Job 18:19). It was definitely not what Job needed to hear at the moment.

I once shared certain painful experiences with a friend, hoping to explain some changes in my personality he had found unsettling. I was truly hurt when my friend responded by criticizing me for what I had just told him. Though there was some truth in my friend’s criticisms, for which I apologized, this experience ultimately pushed us apart and made me see him in a different light.

We must be careful not to judge each other and draw our own conclusions about why another is suffering.

 

 3. Keep silent and listen

Elihu, the fourth friend, stayed quiet for most of the book while the other three bickered, only speaking up when the others had finished laying out their views.

Like Elihu, we shouldn’t be quick to offer the first reply that comes to mind, because, as we’ve seen, that is probably not what is needed.

My army friend recently told me about how he and his girlfriend often quarrelled, because whenever he confided to her about the problems he was facing in the army, she would keep telling him what he should to do to solve them. Most of the time, he already knew the correct solution, and just wanted a sympathetic ear. Hearing him, I was secretly thankful that I had just quietly listened to him and not tried to make any assessment or offer any solution to his predicament.

 

4. Encourage

When Elihu finally spoke up, he didn’t judge Job for perceived past sins that were not actually committed, but instead took issue with Job’s current speech. We are told “Elihu. . . became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God” (Job 32:2).

However, Elihu was also the only one of the four friends to offer hope to Job. He acknowledged Job’s predicament, and then delivered an uplifting promise of restoration and God’s goodness: “then that person can pray to God and find favor with him, they will see God’s face and shout for joy; he will restore them to full well-being” (Job 33:26).

Elihu told Job of how God has a plan and allows suffering for our own good. He provided a new and much-needed perspective of hope.

While I was enlisted in national service, I went through a spiritual low point in terms of dealing with my own sin and, consequently, my assurance of salvation. Whenever I could get Friday evenings off, I began attending my cousin’s youth group.

The youth were nice and friendly enough, but it was the facilitator, a young woman in her 30s, who eventually took the initiative to engage me and ask how my spiritual walk was. She seemed sincere and mature, so I confided in her the troubles I was having.

We had an honest, meaningful conversation. Though I initially thought that I knew all the textbook answers applicable to my situation, it was her encouragements and prayers that really uplifted and refreshed me.

Eventually, my army commitments prevented me from joining those youth meetings altogether. But by then, thank God, I had come out of the period of spiritual doubt and depression, in large part due to this woman’s encouragement and friendship.

 

In summary, let’s be quick to listen and quick to hug, slow to speak and even slower to judge.

Most of all, don’t be afraid to reach out, because while we’re not perfect and may often say or do the wrong thing, we can pray and trust God to guide us in our interactions with suffering friends. May we be a blessing to those around us in their time of need.

The Thorns of Life

Title: The Thorns of Life
Materials: Digital painting
Artwork by: Jessica Wang
Description: Have you ever felt far away from God’s love? Sometimes as humans, we can easily feel locked up in all thorns and difficulties of this life that we forget about God, who is our Friend. We forget His unique love for us.

 

When we are going through trials in our lives, we may feel stuck, lost and alone. However, He is with us; in fact, He is closer than ever. Although we may not see Him physically, His presence is always with our lonely souls as we struggle in this world. Every day, He waits patiently for us to see Him and turn to Him.

 

Life can be likened to a rose. It is beautiful to look at but has thorns that can prick us. Such thorns are like the struggles and difficulties that God allows us to go through. But thorns have their unique purpose—to prevent the rose from being harmed. In the same way, God uses our difficult circumstances to protect us by strengthening our faith and helping us grow.

3 Ways Discomfort Discomforted Me

Not again. I was at my wit’s end. A good two and a half weeks had passed since I had finished my second course of antibiotics, but as I gazed at the ceiling that night—awake, alert, and anxious—it felt as though I was back to square one.

For weeks, I had been experiencing a mild case of urinary tract infection (UTI). It was not the first time I had it; but unlike the first time, when a round of antibiotics easily cured it, the symptoms were relentless this time.

In most cases, UTI manifests as a frequent or intense urge to urinate. On some nights, I would go to the toilet as many as seven times before going to bed. On other nights, anxiety about having to visit the toilet in the middle of the night would plague me the moment I lay on the bed. I would end up tossing and turning for a couple of hours—and on some occasions, the entire night.

That night, I had just made five trips to the toilet within two hours. As I flopped onto my bed for the fifth time, I could feel my heart racing and a sense of dread setting in. I couldn’t help thinking about what else I should have done to ensure a faster recovery.

Take antibiotics, probiotics, and cranberry juice? Check. Drink a lot of water? Check. Pay a visit to the doctor? Check. Twice. Seek divine intervention? Big check. I even “formalized” my plea to God on three separate occasions by recording my prayers in my journal when the symptoms seemed to much for me to bear.

But none of these things seemed to work.

“Maybe this is the thorn in your flesh God has given you,” my brother finally said on one occasion after hearing me lament for the umpteenth time and trying unsuccessfully to cheer me.

That’s when it hit me. What if God had no intention to remove this “thorn in the flesh” from my life for the time being? What if the whole reason why I was going through this was that God was trying to teach me that His grace was sufficient for me—but I had just been too preoccupied to see it?

When I finally turned to scripture to read about Paul’s struggle and response to his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), I felt rebuked by my own less-than-ideal response. That’s when I discovered three things about myself.

 

 1. I tend to rely on myself.

As much as I know my life is in God’s hands, I almost always resort to human means to address my problems. If I’m falling sick, I make sure I get enough rest and eat the right food. If I don’t achieve positive results at work, I try to put in more effort. If people don’t respond to me, I look at what I should or shouldn’t have said, and try to make up for it. Everything in life can be “fixed” with the right solution, and so can my health.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with these actions, I realize that it’s only when I exhaust all human means that I turn to God, delve into scriptures, and pray actively and fervently for relief. This is exactly what happened in my recent case of UTI.

 

2. I tend to focus on myself.

In the grand scheme of things, I knew that the physical discomfort I was experiencing wasn’t that bad. For one, it would hardly constitute the kind of suffering the Bible talks about (Romans 5:3-5). Also, aside from having to make frequent toilet trips, I didn’t feel any physical pain and could function perfectly well. I could eat, work, sleep, and play. As long as my mind was distracted by something else, I wouldn’t even feel the symptoms.

But I certainly made a big deal out of it. Whenever the symptoms became more pronounced— especially in the evening when I was resting at home—I would throw a pity party for myself and invite my family members to be a part of it. I also made sure those around me—my colleagues, church friends, and close friends—knew I was “suffering” and would never fail to request for their prayer.

I’m ashamed to say I don’t always remember to pray for friends the same way, especially if they share about their “minor” problems like cough and cold. In fact, I even secretly frown on those who keep harping on the same issue, such as when my mother kept asking my brother and I to pray that God would remove the itchy sensation around her neck. It was only when I had to go through a prolonged period of physical discomfort myself that I realized how “non-issues” like these could so easily affect and discourage me.

That realization made me more sympathetic to others going through similar discomfort. I decided to consciously pray for others every night as I prayed for my own relief. And that’s when God really put my problems in perspective. Compared to the aunty at church who was having a relapse of lymphoma and a friend who had just suffered a serious viral attack that almost took her life, what did I have to complain about?

 

3. I tend to focus on this earthly life.

Though I know that this world is not my final destination, I tend to live my life as though I’m going to be here for eternity. It’s only in moments of helplessness that I’m reminded of the truth that I should not be holding on to anything in this life.

Discomforts and setbacks of any magnitude or nature serve as reminders that we live in a transient—and broken—world. Our physical bodies are not built to last; over time, they will naturally wear down and malfunction. How comforting, then, are the words of 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, which tell us that the suffering we go through in life now is preparing us for eternity: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Though we see trouble and suffering on every front, we know that these are but signposts that there is something so much better ahead of us; difficulties and suffering in life will come to an end. And while there’s nothing we can do to escape problems in life, we can certainly change how we choose to respond to them. American pastor Charles Stanley once said that nothing attracts the unbeliever like a saint suffering successfully. Based on how I had been responding, I’m pretty sure I looked more like a saint suffering sorrowfully. Still, I thank God for using this episode to correct the way I have been viewing and responding to “suffering”.

As I write this article now, I’m thankful that God has stopped my UTI from flaring up in the past week. I’m not sure it will recur, but this experience has given me the determination to do these three things the next time I’m faced with any form of “discomfort”:

  1. Commit my discomfort to God and ask Him for strength and wisdom to respond to it.
  2. Remember that there are many others around me who are facing similar discomfort—if not worse—and pray for them.
  3. Thank God for giving me the discomfort, because it is a reminder that this earthly life was never meant to be a comfortable one.