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You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. Genesis 50:20

I was talking with a friend the other day and as he shared a very stressful time of his life I said “People say God never gives us more than we can handle, but sometimes I wonder.” He looked at me and said, “God does give us more than we can handle, He never gives us more than HE can handle! That’s the only way He can get some of us to rely on Him.”

Throughout the Old Testament, and in our lives today we go through things that seem to hard to handle, we see our kids struggle with things they should never have to deal with. We see our parents fail in old age and our finances falter in troublesome times. We endure the trauma of broken relationships and death. In all this we look heavenward and say “When is enough, enough?”

Take a look at the life of Joseph for example. If you look at his family closely you will see that he grew up in a dysfunctional family with a weak father, a conniving mother and a bunch of brothers that were nothing short of bullies. Joseph didn’t help matters any when he told everyone in his family that someday they would all serve him! The tension around the dinner table must have been thick enough to cut with a knife!

When his brothers had had enough they beat Joseph up and sold him into slavery. Joseph was taken away by strangers to a far off land. He had no chance to say good bye to his family. He was in a strange land where his customs were odd and where the God he worshipped was looked down upon. He was lonely, wrongfully accused, misunderstood, forgotten, betrayed and in fear for his life.

In the midst of his calamity Joseph never lost sight of the fact that God was in complete control. Joseph’s situation wasn’t completely the fault of his brothers. He’d done some things that inflamed their anger. Yet he knew that God would eventually work everything out.

Joseph made the best of a bad situation as well! Rather than sulk as a slave he worked hard to elevate himself to a manager position. When Joseph sent to prison innocently, he didn’t become bitter, he became better. By the time Joseph had his chance for freedom, he was not only ready for life outside, he was ready for leadership.

When we are treated poorly our natural reaction is to retaliate. One day Joseph had that chance. The very brothers that were bullies when he was growing up, the very brothers who’d sold him into slavery, came for help. Joseph wisely tested them to see if they had changed, and then revealed himself to them. Even though he wasn’t obligated to give them anything he gave them food, shelter and  the most important thing any of us can hope for: FORGIVENESS.

You may be going through something you think unbearable right now. It could be the result of something you did or the actions of other abusive people. You may be feeling like there is no way out. In the midst of your pain, remember the life of Joseph. Throughout his struggle he never lost sight of a God who loves you, forgives you and can make whatever you are going through turn out for good. It may take many years, but someday you will be able to look back and see His way was best. He may give you more than you can handle, but He’ll never give you more than HE can handle!

PRAYER: Holy and powerful God. I thank you for stories like that of Joseph that remind me that you are always in control and that you can take the worst things in life and make them useful to your Kingdom. I confess that the struggle I’m in may be partially my own fault. I also suffer at the hands of abusers in my life. Please forgive me for my part in the struggle, protect me from abuse, but most of all, help me patiently acknowledge your leading and wait for you to make all things good for your sake. Thank you for your love and forgiveness. In Jesus name, Amen.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

It’s a verse many of us learned in Sunday School, and perhaps the most well-known verse in the Bible. ‘For God so loved the world.’ What an awesome promise. What an incredible thought. Not a god, THE God. The creator and sustainer of the universe loves us. Make it more personal. He loves me. Insignificant as I am, a stubborn, selfish, weak-willed person. Yet He looks down from heaven and smiles when He sees me.

Fantastic as that truth is, so often we focus our attention on the first part of the verse and relatively little time really thinking about the next part of the verse. ‘He gave his one and only son’. If you are a parent, ask yourself, “If I knew my only child was going to be killed, what would I do to protect him/her? How much money would I spend to keep my child protected? What would I sacrifice to make sure I could enjoy my child’s presence?

It might be easy to say, “Yeah, but He’s God. Sure, He knew Jesus would die, but He also knew Jesus would rise again.” But remember that we are made in God’s image. Our emotional make-up and intellect comes from Him.

A friend of mine (I’ll call John) recently lost his infant son to a rare disease. The disease struck in the morning and took the little ones life before sundown! It was incredibly hard for the family and all those close to John. I hadn’t seen John in several months since the funeral of his one-year-old little boy. As we sat over coffee, John told me how the morning of his son’s death he’d been spoken to regarding sacrifice. “It was as if God was saying to me, ‘will you give me everything?”

John remembers thinking, I can give you everything except I have to admit I’m not sure I’d give you my son. That day God took his son from him. John learned a valuable lesson about what it must have been like for his Heavenly Father when he was separated from His only son.

When Jesus was on earth it was as though He was imprisoned in a foreign land. While His Father could see Him, the relationship was different. When Jesus was dying on the cross, even His Father turned His face from His one and only Son. That’s why, with agony Jesus screamed, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”

John 3:16 doesn’t just tell us that God loves us. It shows us that God understands what sacrifice means. When we are asked to give everything to God, it’s not an idle statement by a God that hasn’t sacrificed. He loved me so much that He literally gave the only thing He could possibly give, His only Son.

The next time you think the pain of the journey is too great; remember that Jesus endured pain beyond imagination so He could comfort you. When you wonder if you can go on, remember that Jesus’ agony was so great that He sweat great drops of blood. During those times you feel all alone, remember Jesus knew what it was like to have all of his family, and friends reject Him. Even His heavenly Father turned his back on him.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I thank you that you understand my deepest pain. Thank you that in my loneliness you are desperate to be my friend. Thank you for the promise that Your love is eternal and unconditional. I’ve made many mistakes. I struggle with trying to do the right thing. Empower me by your Spirit to learn to live the life of sacrifice for your sake. Amen.

But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. Job 23:10

“I believe in the sun even when it is not shining, I believe in love even when I am alone and I believe in God even when He is silent” Inscription found scratched into a wall in Germany by someone hiding from the Nazi concentration camps.

It’s easy to have faith in God when you have a surplus in your checkbook. Having faith is easy when your spouse is sensitive to all your needs; your kids are well respected, academically achieving, mature young men and women; the doctor’s report comes back favorably and the weather forecast is perfect for that outdoor picnic.

If we are really honest with ourselves, all too often the level of our faith is directly proportional to the comfort level of our lives. When things go well, God is good. When things go bad then something or someone must be wrong. We can easily start blaming others, ourselves, or even God for all the bad that happens. Sometimes we even stop believing that God exists or, if he does, is unconcerned or unable to deal with our situation.

None of us have endured the pain and agony that Job experienced. Children in his day were a sign of wealth and godliness and all ten of his kids were killed in a horrible storm. He was the richest and most generous man in the region, yet had all his wealth taken from him. His body was full of painful, itching, oozing boils for which the only medicine was to sit in a pile of ashes and scrap himself with a piece of broken pottery. His community couldn’t bear to look at him so he was ignored, his friends became his relentless critics, imploring him to turn from sin and his wife, the last person he had on earth, turned her back on him. Job was a completely broken, lonely, pain-racked man.

In the midst all this pain Job testifies to his faith in God. It’s as though he says, in a voice that almost sounds like he’s trying to convince himself, “I know that He’s there. I can’t see Him. But I know He sees me. I can’t understand what I’ve done to end up this way. I followed and obeyed Him. I’ve been a good husband and father. I’ve been generous to the poor. It doesn’t matter what people think of me. This one thing I know. When all this pain is over. When the time of His testing is done. I’ll come out of this shining like gold.

The picture of gold is a picture of refining; a picture of removing all the impurities, all the faults, all the issues that may have been in Job’s character by the cleansing heat of fire. Fire is painful and ruthless in it’s purifying of gold just as trials are ruthless in purifying our character. Enduring faith is seen in the hard times of life, when everything seems to be going downhill.

Wherever you are in life, ask God to help you grow to have enduring faith. Perhaps you’ve looked back on your life and seen many times when your decisions and lifestyle have brought on the consequences you now face. Nothing you have done or anyone else has done can keep you from enjoying the peace and comfort only God can give through His Son Jesus.

Praise Him today for the fact that someday your earthly trials will be over. Someday He will show Himself to you in ways you never thought possible. You may not be able to see Him. His ways may seem to far off for you and your pain may be too great right now. But He does love you and knows where you are and wants to walk with you through the adversity that lay ahead.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father. Although I’m not in nearly as bad of shape as Job, my pain is still very real. I’ve tried to find you, but I can’t. I’ve tried to fill this void in my life with all sorts of things, even things like religion, but that hasn’t worked. I thank you that you see me where I am and love me the way I am. Help me to have enduring faith as I walk this journey called life. Show me Jesus so I can follow Him. Thank you for forgiving me, in Jesus name, Amen.

Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. Acts 12:7

“I’ll pray for you.” We say it all the time, especially as believers. I remember when my son was only a few months old. He was very sick and the doctors in our small town couldn’t figure out what was wrong. We were referred to a doctor in a much larger city, very well-known for it’s medical expertise.

As we were making the preparations to go and word spread, many from our church called or stopped by to offer support and prayers. Some even prayed with us. The one comment that sticks in my mind the most was a dear lady where I worked. In a very sincere voice she said, “We’ll be thinking of you.”

The reason her comment has stayed with me all these years is because of how empty those words were. ‘Thinking of me? What good will that do?’ Of course I knew her heart and sincerity, but I was struck by the fact that our prayers are so much more than simply thinking sympathetic, heartfelt thoughts about something or someone. Prayer, whether spoken, written or simply thought in our minds, is a personal, intimate communication with the eternal, omnipotent, all-knowing God of love! What a privilege we have to approach Him in that way for ourselves and on the behalf of others.

The apostle Peter was taken prisoner and sentenced to death. The Bible gives us no indication that he was distraught about this, but it does give us a picture of God’s people in action. We don’t know the details, but at some point after his arrest a prayer meeting was held to pray for his deliverance. It was in the midst of that prayer meeting that an angel appeared to Peter. How many of us, if we were in prison and to be executed the next day, would have to be awakened from a deep sleep! Peter wasn’t worried. He knew that whatever happened, God’s will would be done.

Prayer works. Don’t think prayer doesn’t work when you don’t get the answers you want. Don’t think it a waste of time because no one will hear you. As a follower of Jesus Christ, you have the privilege, honor and responsibility to approach the very throne of God. Don’t take the matter of prayer lightly. When you say you will pray for someone, do it. Right then. Whether you are driving, walking, in a meeting or working, PRAY! You don’t know how much impact your prayer may have on the person(s) involved.

As a body of Christ we must always be ready to fight the enemy. Prayer is our major weapon of attack. It was no doubt the fact that Peter ‘knew’ his friend were praying that allowed him to sleep that night.

One more thought. Surround yourself with people who pray. ‘Thinking of others’ is a nice gesture, but thinking of someone doesn’t really do anyone any good. Your problems may not go away when you have friends praying but the burden will be lighter.

PRAYER: Holy God, I thank you for the gift of prayer. Thank you for the example of prayer in the life of the early church. Like Peter, I ask that I can have the faith to rest in the midst of despair because I know people are praying for me and your perfect will will be done. Help me to remember to pray for others and not treat it as merely a spiritual exercise. Help me to really believe that prayer works. In Jesus Name I pray, Amen.

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

What makes you happy? What causes you to have joy? If you were to ask most people this question they would no doubt describe an activity, a person, a certain type of weather or some environmental situation.

It’s human nature for us to allow the environment around us to dictate our moods and disposition. The Apostle Paul teaches us that this reaction to the things around us is completely opposite of how we should react as Christ-followers. He tells us that we should always be joyful. Joy should be a defining characteristic of each of us regardless of what is going on around us.

Paul goes on to say that we should pray continually. This doesn’t mean that we should spend all of our time going around with our eyes closed, our heads bowed and completely oblivious to the world around us. Paul is telling us that wherever we are, and in whatever situation we find ourselves in, we should have a constant awareness that God is there, He’s aware of our thoughts and feelings and He wants to be a part of every part of our life.

Lastly Paul says that we should be thankful in all circumstances. There are some people who will try to get you to believe that if you only have enough faith and trust in Jesus then all of your circumstances will be happy ones. Nothing is farther from the truth. In fact, take a look at the life of Paul! The very person that writes that we should have unending joy and thankfulness was left for dead after being stoned, beaten numerous times, spent several nights in a cold dark prison and was shipwrecked. He spent much of his ministry in conflict with either the Romans (who eventually killed him) or the Jews (who tried several times to murder him).

Sometimes people allow their circumstances to control their entire lives. They let circumstances affect their job, school, relationships and even their view of God. They become bitter, angry and discouraged. Feelings of hopelessness and failure seem to follow them everywhere they go. Their attitude can even affect those around them and destroy the atmosphere of an entire room!

How was Paul able to live a life of joy and thankfulness in such painful circumstances? Paul learned and lived a lesson that each of us should learn: We don’t rejoice in the circumstances that hold us. We rejoice in the One who holds the circumstances!

Faith in Jesus is more than a ‘pie in the sky’ philosophy. The rewards we get from following Him aren’t only limited to eternity. He is with us wherever we go. He loves us no matter what. He is always willing to forgive us and comfort us.

Sometimes we suffer because of our own poor decisions. Sometimes we suffer because other people are evil and intent on hurting us. Regardless of the reason for your pain, Jesus wants you to know that he loves you and will help you through every circumstance you encounter, no matter how painful; no matter who is at fault.

Learn to rejoice in the one who holds your circumstances and the power of those circumstances to hold you will be destroyed. You will be able to live a life of joy in the midst of adversity.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I thank you for the fact that you know what I’m going through. I praise you for the truth that no matter what happens around me, You are there to comfort, love and strengthen me. I want to live a life of joy and thankfulness. Please empower me by Your Holy Spirit to rejoice in you and not let my environment affect how I feel about myself, others or you. Amen.

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