On beaches around the globe, you can find people sporting shorts, flip-flops, and headphones as they comb the seashore with metal detectors. While many sun-lovers return from a day at the beach with a tan and a few seashells, these modern-day treasure hunters often bring back something more valuable—gold, mostly in the form of lost jewelry.
As I watched the news of a commercial flight that had been downed by a missile last year, my heart sank. Why would people wantonly take the lives of 298 people? Why? This small, three-letter word sits at the root of all our experiences with pain and suffering. It lingers, and sometimes even haunts to the point where faith and understanding collide in crisis.
One time when I was high up a mountain in Norway, God chose to rescue me from an untimely death. At the time it felt anything but pleasant, but God knew that I was in spiritual bondage and that I needed to be saved—largely from myself. He was aware that I was spiritually dead and needed to wake up to my predicament. So he sent a series of extremely uncomfortable events my way in order that I might see what I truly needed—Him!
The Bible presents many suffering people who were miraculously healed in response to prayers. Miriam was healed of leprosy (Numbers 12:1-15). King Hezekiah, who was terminally ill, was given 15 years more to live (2 Kings 20:1-7). Job suffered too (Job 2:7)—enduring months of it before he was restored (Job 42:10).
US President Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, was angered by an army officer who accused him of favoritism. Stanton complained to Lincoln, who suggested that Stanton write the officer a letter. Later, Stanton told the President he was ready to send the strongly worded letter. Lincoln said, “You don’t want to send that letter. . . . Put it in the stove. That’s what I do when I have written a letter while I am angry. It’s a good letter, and you had a good time writing it and feel better. Now burn it, and write another.”
After I moved to Africa, a couple living in the US contacted me and said, “We’d like to make a financial contribution to help you with your ministry in Uganda.” Because my job at the time didn’t require that I raise funds, I thanked them but declined their generous offer.
When I was hiking in a park with my grandfather, our trail lassoed a lake at the bottom of a valley. As we walked, several smaller paths broke away from the main trail. Each time we came to a fork in the road, my grandfather let me choose which way to go. I always picked the steepest, rockiest, most difficult choice. My grandfather sighed a few times, but he took on the most challenging path for my sake.
The memory is vivid. My wife Merryn and I sat in emotional pain, talking. “If this really is our last chance to have a baby and it doesn’t happen,” Merryn said, “I need something else.” We’d spent the past decade trying everything to start a family—IVF treatment, healing prayer, adoption—all without success. We now awaited the result of one final IVF round. “If it doesn’t happen,” she said, her face downcast, “I have to have something else to look forward to.”
Ihave a friend who has wounds so deep that she resists the compassionate love of others. Caring people have reached out to my friend. They would give their lives for her (in fact, in many ways they’ve done precisely that). Yet she runs from their love. She fears being loved. The love offered to her is so strong, and her heart so weak, that it terrifies her. It seems safer just to stay in her cocoon.
What do soldiers, athletes, and farmers have in common? Discipline. Soldiers go through drills day in and day out. They want to be battle ready. Athletes undergo strict training so they can compete in the race. Farmers work from the rising of the sun until it sets, patiently toiling in hope of a bountiful harvest.
In a speech given during the commencement of a newly formed missions agency, my friend—who heads up the ministry—spoke of its mission and vision. He also gave everyone a clear picture of its goals and plans.