Context: Today I’m full of anticipation, because tomorrow is a significant day for me. Some of you will know that my health is very poor, so I’ve been having a lot of clinical investigations done locally over the last couple of months. Tomorrow, at 9am, I will be having my second video appointment with a London specialist.
Hopefully, we will discuss the test results, then he will offer a firm diagnosis. If so, he might tell me what to expect, or perhaps even offer some medical help. However, it’s also possible that he will ask me to travel to London for further testing before he can reach a definite diagnosis. Either way, we should be able to agree on a plan for what needs to happen next.
At the moment I’m mainly just feeling very aware that I may be about to receive some life-changing information. Tomorrow morning, though, I think I’ll be rather anxious as I wait for the video appointment to start, even though I’m ready to accept whatever comes out of it.
So, after that rather long preamble, here is the prayer I was given earlier today:
We know that God makes everything work together for the good of those who love God and have been called according to God’s purpose (Romans 8:28; TIB).
Catalyst of healing,
You bring good from all that’s bad.
Architect of healing,
You bring joy from all that’s sad.
Fountainhead of healing,
You bring courage from my fears.
Crucible of healing,
You bring gladness from my tears.
The Most High will wipe away every tear from their eyes. And death, mourning, crying and pain will be no more, for the old order has fallen (Revelation 21:4; NLT).
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; NIV).
Though YHWH may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide from you anymore; your eyes will see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right and when you turn to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way – walk in it” (Isaiah 30:20-21; TIB).
We come into this world with nothing, and we leave with nothing. Along the way, we experience many joys, trials and sorrows. God gives us everything we have, but he also takes things away from us. Thus, he tests us to see how we freely respond. This process reveals whether or not we love him with all our mind, heart, soul and strength.
No one is exempt from being tested by suffering, including Christ. This is why he is able to suffer with us, whilst helping us to find and follow his way of love through every experience. Jesus’ life and death clearly demonstrate that God brings good out of even the most terrible suffering, and the same can also be true for us.
When others suffer, we pray that they will be strengthened, helped, and healed. Additionally, we can ask God to bring good from what they are undergoing, both for the sufferer, and for others.
However, when we ourselves must suffer, Jesus invites us to shoulder our cross and follow him. This means we have a choice about how to respond to our situation.
3. Responses to suffering
A. We may respond to suffering with resentment, anger, bitterness or despair, blaming God for the troubles he has sent us. If suffering makes it impossible for us to maintain our previous understanding of God, we are likely to become disillusioned, rejecting him, and perhaps even losing our faith altogether. Yet such inner struggles can be healed, because God endlessly waits for us to turn to him, longing to help us reach a deeper understanding of him, and of our suffering.
B. Alternatively, we can respond to suffering by learning to face, accept and even welcome it, seeing it as a way of sharing in the redemptive suffering of Christ. By adopting this approach, we can focus on asking God to help us embrace what we must undergo, for it is useless to fight against his will. As above, we can also pray that God will bring good from our suffering, especially for others. Such an attitude might take many years to develop, but we have our whole lifetime to work on it, until our last breath.
4. Entrusted with suffering
Suffering is not imposed on us without purpose. Rather we are entrusted with a level of suffering that is commensurate to the strength of our faith. Like Jesus, our task is to face it in such as way as to be an example, an encouragement and an inspiration to others. This is how God brings good from it, often in very unexpected ways.
5. Suffering as an opportunity
Suffering can therefore be understood as an opportunity for personal and spiritual growth, a form of service, a privilege, a blessing, an honour and a glory. Such an approach gives rise to a much more positive attitude than seeing it as a random or unfair event, a judgement, or a punishment. We can thank God for it, doing our very best to endure and manage our suffering with patience and love. This approach brings peace of mind, for we can be confident that our approach to suffering will help others, and even ourselves. In this way, suffering is transformed and made meaningful, becoming easier live with, and to bear.
Whatever trials and sorrows we face, we can turn to God and ask for his help. Summoning all our courage, we can choose to trust in him, whilst being as joyful, prayerful, thankful and loving as possible. When we have faith that God will support and teach us through all we experience, we can be assured that our suffering will, in time, bear fruit.
God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering (Genesis 41:52; NIV).
Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21; CSB).
The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7; NIV).
Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows (John 16:33; NLT).
The Lord your God is testing you to see if you truly love him with all your heart and soul (Deuteronomy 13:3; NLT).
Whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free (James 2:12; NLT).
He did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all (Romans 8:32; NLT).
Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested (Hebrews 2:18; NLT).
I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6; NLT).
In all their suffering he also suffered (Isaiah 63:9; NLT).
Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood (Hebrews 13:12; NLT).
In all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28; NIV).
I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them (1 Timothy 2:1; NLT).
If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me (Matthew 16:24; NLT).
3. Responses to suffering
A. My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? (Psalm 22:1; NLT).
The Lord longs to be gracious to you (Isaiah 30:18; NIV).
The Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion (Isaiah 30:18; NLT).
B. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? (Job 2:10; NIV).
If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine (Matthew 26:39; NLT).
It is useless for you to fight against my will (Acts 26:14; NLT).
You are hurting yourself by kicking against the goads (Acts 26:14; NET).
It’s foolish to fight against me! (Acts 26:14; CEV).
If we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering (Romans 8:17; NLT).
Submit to God and be at peace with him (Job 22:21; NIV).
God teaches people through suffering and uses distress to open their eyes (Job 36:15; GNT).
Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” And with those words he breathed his last (Luke 23:46; NLT).
4. Entrusted with suffering
From the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked (Luke 12:48; NIV).
Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people. But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13; GNT).
God chose you to suffer as you follow in the footsteps of Christ, who set an example by suffering for you (1 Peter 2:21; CEV).
5. Suffering as an opportunity
God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation (James 1:12; NLT).
Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory (2 Timothy 2:10; NIV).
He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more (John 15:2; NLT).
We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3-4; NIV).
Trust in God (John 14;1; NLT).
Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; NLT).
Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ (Ephesians 5:2; NLT).
* At the bottom of this page there is an acknowledgement, and a short commentary. Please don’t miss these, especially if you, or someone you love, suffers from anxiety, dread, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or any other way of trying to avoid fear.
My heart pounds in my chest. The terror of death assaults me.
Fear and trembling overwhelm me, and I can’t stop shaking.
(Psalm 55:4-5; NLT).
Stand up to fear and panic, And here’s the reason why:
Avoidance makes them stronger –
Confrontation makes them die.
No one finds this easy:
It’s heroic, hard, and slow,
But confrontation shrinks our fears –
Avoidance makes them grow.
Let panic come, and welcome it:
Yes, practice every day.
Pause to let it do its worst –
Tremble, weep, or pray,
But don’t let terror stop you From doing what you dread,
For confrontation shortens fear –
Avoidance makes it spread.
And if you have a seed of faith, Hold fast to Christ, our Guide,
Who faced the cross despite his dread –
He did not run, or hide.
With practice, you’ll get braver, Your doggedness is key,
So face your fears courageously –
For this will set you free.
Be brave and courageous (Psalm 27:14; NLT).
Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible” (Matthew 17:20; NLT).
The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24; NLT).
The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you” (Psalm 32:8; NLT).
This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do (Hebrews 4:15; NLT).
They came to a place called Gethsemane, and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here whilst I shall pray. And he taketh Peter, and James, and John, with him; and he began to be filled with horrible dread, and to be sunk under dejection of spirit: and he saith to them, My soul is deeply afflicted even to death: abide here, and watch. And he went a little farther forward, and fell on the earth, and prayed, that if it were possible the hour might pass from him (Mark 14:32-5; HNT).
He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done” (Matthew 26:42; NIV).
He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood (Luke 22:44; NLT).
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you (Psalm 56:3; NIV).
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me (Psalm 23:4; NLT).
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10; NLT).
* Acknowledgement and commentary
I am deeply grateful for, and indebted to, the work of Claire Weekes, whose books on depression, anxiety, fear, dread, phobias, panic and mental breakdown laid the foundation for how I’ve handled my own emotional health for the last 45 years.
As an example, when I was completely housebound and broken by agoraphobia, it was her writing that showed me how to start facing my fears, by setting tiny, realistic goals and repeatedly confronting them, day after day.
At that time, in England (1978), there was no treatment for agoraphobia – indeed, it was considered to be untreatable. However, through Claire’s books, I was able to put together a few short, simple principles for how to tackle my fears. I wrote them down, and always kept them with me on a card in case I couldn’t remember them when I was panicking. I learned them by heart, used them during my practice sessions, and clung to them throughout every panic attack.
Over the years, I have had many set-backs, and still need anti-depressants every day to stay as coping as possible. Even now, though I’m much better, I automatically remember to use these principles as soon as panic starts to rise within me, and whenever I’m tempted to avoid something that makes me anxious. This is because I fully understand that avoidance underpins, maintains, and drives the development of phobias. There is a very good reason for this, as I will now explain.
In the short term, avoiding whatever we fear brings great relief. However, this relief acts as a powerful reward, strengthening the probability that we will avoid the same situation, and others like it, in future. This is the mechanism by which phobias grow and spread, until they come to dominate our lives, even affecting those with whom we live.
Unfortunately, when others kindly make allowance for our fears, they unwittingly encourage our avoidance, making the situation even more difficult to tackle. Forcing, teasing, bullying and punishing are of no help, either: they simply distress us even more, further damaging our already fragile coping abilities, confidence and self-esteem.
However, this wretched situation can be turned around, once we accept that the way forward lies in our own hands. When we begin to tackle our fears head-on, we can ask others to encourage and support us by rewarding confrontation, rather than avoidance. Praise, pleasure, smiles and hugs are very effective rewards for the heroic work of standing up to our fears and slowly overcoming them.
My heart goes out to everyone who is in the grip of phobic avoidance, and to those who are facing their fears with all the courage they can muster. Believe me: I know what you are going through. May God bless, strengthen and help every one of us.
1. Your cross
Is part of me,
And I am part
2. It’s always with me,
Day and night,
In all I think, and say,
3. It gives me courage,
When I am anxious,
Or in pain –
4. Reminding me
How Jesus lived
Died, and rose again.
1. If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9:23; NLT).
Whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17; NIV).
2. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me (Psalm 23:4; KJV).
3. I am full of the courage that the Lord’s Spirit gives (Micah 3:8; NET).
I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever (John 14:16; KJV).
Peace I leave you; my peace I give you (John 14:27; NIV).
In all their suffering he also suffered, and he personally rescued them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them. He lifted them up and carried them through all the years (Isaiah 63:9; NLT).
4. The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction. But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18; NLT).
“The Son of Man must suffer many terrible things,” he said. “He will be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He will be killed, but on the third day he will be raised from the dead” (Luke 9:22; NLT).
“Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die” (Matthew 20:18; NLT).
1. I long for you
As evening falls,
And dusk turns into night.
Father, Must I drink this cup? It’s too late now for flight.
2. I yearn for you
When morning comes.
I want to do your will.
Lord, I am lost: betrayed; condemned – And yet I trust you still.
3. My strength is gone
And death draws near.
I cannot bear this pain.
Father, Come to rescue me, Then I’ll rejoice again.
4. I thirst for you.
My courage fails –
Destroyed by sin and shame.
Lord, Why have you forsaken me, Though I cry out your name?
1. As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God (Psalm 42:1; NLT).
Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death” (Matthew 26:36-8; NLT).
My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen on me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me (Psalm 55:4-5; NIV).
He went on a little further and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me…
2. …Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Matthew 26:39; NLT).
I yearn for the Lord, more than watchmen do for the morning (Psalm 130:6; NET).
The traitor, Judas, had given them a prearranged signal: You will know which one to arrest when I greet him with a kiss. Then you can take him away under guard (Mark 14:44; NLT).
So Pilate sentenced Jesus to die as they demanded (Luke 23:24; NLT).
Don’t you realise that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly? (Matthew 26:53; NLT).
3. My life is poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax, melting within me. My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth (Psalm 22:14-15; NLT).
The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name” (Psalm 91:14; NLT).
4. Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the scripture),“I thirst” (John 19:28; RSV).
It was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down (Isaiah 53:4; NLT).
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? (Psalm 22:1; NIV).
Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example,
that you should follow in his steps
(1 Peter 2:21; NIV).
1. Thank you, Lord,
For your example: Silence In response to blame.
2. Thank you, Lord,
For your example: Courage
In the face of fear.
3. Thank you, Lord,
For your example: Pardon
As you bowed to pain.
4. Thank you, Lord,
For your example:
Help me, please,
1. When the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent.“Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?” Pilate demanded. But Jesus made no response (Matthew 27:12-14; NLT).
2. If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine (Matthew 26:39; NLT).
3. When they came to the place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross [and] Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:33-4; NLT).
4. You need to persevere, so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised (Hebrews 10:36; NIV).
Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows (John 16:33; NLT).
May I trust in you,
No matter how I feel.
May I cling to you,
When life is an ordeal.
May I walk with you,
And share your warm embrace.
May I rest in you,
Until I see your face.
1. Trust in God (John 14:1; NLT).
2. Serve only the Lord your God and fear him alone. Obey his commands, listen to his voice, and cling to him (Deuteronomy 13:4; NLT).
Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:12-13; NIV).
3. O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8; NLT).
So he returned to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him (Luke 15:20; NLT).
4. My soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him (Psalm 62:5; NIV).
Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12; NRSV).