One of my favorite moments of the year is on Christmas Eve when, at the conclusion of our church’s candlelight service, we erupt with the powerful song “Joy to the World.” Because our church practices Advent (the four weeks leading up to Christmas) as a season of preparing our hearts to celebrate Jesus’ birth, we wait to unleash this song until that holy moment—then our voices raise the rafters. The song is the perfect conclusion to Advent, since joy is at the heart of everything Jesus does for us.
It was the night before a job fair, and my husband was discouraged. Past attempts to land a job had failed, and he felt that meeting with recruiters would only lead to more dead ends. But he realized God was greater than his fears (Isaiah 41:10), so before practicing possible interview questions, we decided to meditate on specific, encouraging passages of Scripture. We also prayed and recounted God’s numerous blessings. By the end of the evening, we both experienced a sense of peace even amid our fears.
In what’s considered one of the greatest Christian classics, Mere Christianity, British novelist, poet, academic, lay theologian, broadcaster, lecturer, and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis wrote: “There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus, if you have really handed yourself over to Him (Jesus), it must follow that you are trying to obey Him.”
It’s not uncommon for people, whether believers in Jesus or not, to wrestle with God as to why He allows certain things. When it comes to believers, it can shake our faith to see prayers seemingly go unanswered. But the questions we face aren’t new or unique to this age.
In my view, besides our relationship with God, each of us typically desire three key treasures—health, possessions, and family. A loss to any can be heart wrenching. The Old Testament patriarch Job experienced a triple test—financial ruin, the deaths of his ten children, and painful ill health (Job 1:14-19, 2:7). We can’t imagine the intensity of pain Job had to bear.
I’ve seen believers in Jesus walk through fierce storms of life while trusting in God through it all. How do they do it? I’ve often wondered if it was their personality enabling them to show calm in the midst of turmoil, kindness when mistreated, and courage when most would falter.
“Let me warn you about systematic theology.” My friend started telling me of her struggles in studying biblical doctrines for the first time. “It’s hard . . . it can make you doubt, because you learn that we don’t have the answers to everything about God. Sometimes we can’t know the answers, and we have to trust that God knows them, and that that’s enough.”
It was late at night when Paul, a pastor, received the news that his wife was diagnosed with cancer. He went outside, sat on the front steps, and began to pour his heart out to God. “Why is this happening to my wife?” he asked. “She’s faithful and devoted.” After struggling for a while, Paul looked up to the clear sky and, with open hands, said, “Jesus, You know. You know, and that is enough for me.”
Weather forecasters predicted a hurricane would tear through the town where my friend and her young daughter lived. Hours before the storm arrived, my friend posted a picture of her toddler asleep on a bed of pillows in the bathtub—the safest place in their house. Brown curls framed her serene face; dark lashes fringed her closed eyelids. Completely at peace despite the plummeting barometer and accelerating wind, she was able to sleep because she felt secure.
Well into my thirties, I learned how unchecked optimism can blind us to the detrimental effects of an unsound relationship. Projecting what we want to see in an individual leaves us with a false picture, not only of the other person’s motives, but of our own. When a close relationship brought a series of disappointments, I realized the truth behind the saying: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Every Sunday morning in the foyer, our eyes meet. Her eyes are full of joy, twinkling. Immediately she breaks into song, loudly singing my name, “Mar-le-na!” She ambles over, we hug, and I say, “It is so good to see you.” She always responds with, “It is good to be seen.” And then I remind her, “You know I love you.” And she trustingly offers, “I know you do.” My dear friend, who is seventy-five and dealing with progressing dementia, remains full of the joy of the Lord. She’s childlike in her trust of Jesus and those who love Him.
Poet Christian Wiman, some time after being diagnosed with an incurable form of blood cancer, reflected on his ordeal, writing, “I have passed through pain I could never have imagined, pain that seemed to incinerate all my thoughts of God and to leave me sitting there in the ashes, alone.” But he found hope in the powerful presence of Jesus. “I am a Christian because of that moment on the cross when Jesus, drinking the very dregs of human bitterness, cries out, ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ ” (Matthew 27:46). In times of great suffering, Wiman realized, only the One who carried all human suffering can sustain us.
As I waded through a sea of vendors and their handmade crafts at an outdoor market in East Africa, I came across a woman so poor her inventory consisted of only a few cheaply made bracelets. To help her make ends meet, for that day at least, I purchased a few of her items. One of the bracelets I selected had the name “Jesus” woven into it. After paying her, I put it on my wrist and—referring to the name Jesus—said to her, “Sometimes I need a reminder.”
On the evening before his sister’s marriage in 1882, Scottish preacher George Matheson experienced great pain and loneliness. He’d relied on his sister for help with his work as a church leader, so he may have been worried and distraught over how he would cope without her. His emotions were probably also intensified by the memories of some years before when his fiancée, after learning he was going blind, broke off their engagement. That evening Matheson turned his anguish to prayer and, in mere minutes, wrote the now-beloved hymn, “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go.” He who’d felt abandoned found love and rest in the One who would never leave him.