This week starts the time of year when the number of people who are suffering really escalates. Whether it is a case of job loss, loneliness, divorce, problems with children or a host of other issues, for some reason, the weeks beginning with Thanksgiving and ending after the first of the year represent the period when more people struggle than at any other time during the entire year.
In my pastoral role, I receive a large number of calls asking for my help; and they have already started this season. One of my clients has already been notified that he will lose his job at the end of December. A family member is going in for a hospital test Tuesday morning in Chicago. A man at church is struggling with a part time job that hasn’t been paying the bills. Several families I know are fighting to stay together in the face of imminent divorce. A church I know of had a fight in the congregation that resulted in the church splitting. The pastor and staff left to start a new congregation and left the rest of the church without any leader, or money.
For years, I was asked to go on television and radio starting right after Thanksgiving to discuss the grieving process and what people could do to minimize loneliness. Several years, I actually did a segment each week throughout the holidays and it was really well received. Yet, during the last several years, I have noticed a move away from outreach and people seem more involved in their own issues than reaching out to assist others.
Giving for non-profits has stagnated, if not gone down, in many areas of contribution. People are more reluctant to reach out and help others. Yet every once in a while, somebody steps up and makes a difference. A friend of mine, Erv, used to be a pastor and nearly a decade ago was asked to step down from his congregation. Try as he might, it was next to impossible to get another ministry and finally, he gave up trying. It was years before he was able to find something else, and that something else finally turned into working in a grocery store, at the fish counter.
What a shame… a guy with an earned doctorate, and a real heart for God, unable to sustain himself and his family in the ministry. Eventually, he and his wife moved back to Dallas, where he was able to continue working in the food business while his wife found a position in the school system. Well, he called me a week ago, and will be returning to school to get his credits necessary to receive his Chaplain’s license in the State of Texas. Erv is an unbelievable guy and I am glad that finally, after all these years, he is able to get back to his first love, ministering to people in need. He thinks he is going to focus on hospice and hospital care. God bless him. That’s a tough area for me to work in. But he’s wired for it and can’t wait to get back to helping people in need. If only more of the stories I hear could end up that way – but the numbers don’t lie. Erv’s story is rare.
When people are in need, a funny thing happens. Many times, their support network heads for the hills. Friends don’t know how to respond to negative news; and so they move away from the situation. I hear this all the time. And the sad thing it that when people are really struggling, that is the time they need people around them even more. For one thing, people are more susceptible to the advances of Satan when they are in trouble. Sometimes they even think that God has deserted them. But that’s never the truth. It’s just that God already knows the end of the story – and the outcome is never in opposition to God’s will for his creation and his followers.
So when adversity comes, and it will, present your prayer to God in a way that reflects how you feel. Cry out to God! Even get angry with God, like Job did! Question God! Because too many of us have been raised in an age when it seems wrong to clench your fist at God. But God understands. The one thing to remember when you’re doing all this is that it’s God’s will that will eventually get accomplished. Because He knows the end of the story and we don’t.
So God understands when we don’t want to experience something. After all, He denied the request of Jesus Himself. Christ went to the cross, because God knew the end of the story. That the sacrifice of His Son, once and for all time, would enable the rest of us to be drawn closer to God. There you have it – ultimate suffering – with a God sized outcome.
The verse tonight is probably one of the best prayers to pray when you are suffering. In fact, Jesus prayed the prayer Himself. And if Jesus prayed it, you can be sure that it’s okay for us to pray it. It’s from Luke 22:42, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” He prayed before the crucifixion, when He was in the Garden. In fact, Jesus prayed so earnestly that an angel came to strengthen him and in His continuing prayer, He prayed so fervently that “His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”
My encouragement tonight is to cry out to God when you are struggling. He understands your frustration and your fear. Wrestle with Him, question Him, shake your fist at Him. And my prayer is that God will show you His divine plan for the outcome. And just maybe, you will catch a glimpse of God in His glory, revealing to you what He has in store for you! All the time knowing that He loves you more than you can possibly imagine and that He wants to have a relationship with you for all time – through all eternity! Have a great day in the Lord.