Is God Really There?

is god real

 

“God, if you are real, please show me.”

He was desperate. In prison. Hopeless. His life was a mess and he figured he’d give God a chance. If God even existed, that is.

So he prayed. And waited. And looked for signs of God.

There were no answers written on the sky. But slowly God brought people and circumstances and books to open his eyes. A random cell mate reading a Christian book from Christian Library International passed it along. Which led to a Bible study. And a mentor through CLI.

Soon he knew. Beyond any doubt. This God that he had heard about was indeed real. And had called him out of darkness into light. And the world would never be the same again.

As I listened to the speaker, now out of prison and serving in full-time ministry, I was both grateful and amazed.

Grateful that God calls us through no merits of our own. And that He uses people and circumstances and ministries to show us His truth.

Amazed that I had spoken those very words to God the night before He revealed Himself to me. My story was very different but my words were spoken out of desperation as well. Life wasn’t turning out the way I wanted. My days seemed meaningless. My many questions unanswerable.

God couldn’t be real, I had assumed. I had given up believing in God a long time before. There was little evidence of Him in my world.

My life had been difficult.

I contracted polio as an infant in India and lived in and out of Canadian hospitals for much of my childhood. I spent months on end living on a hospital ward, isolated from my parents, my sister, and my peers.  By age 13, I had endured 21 operations.

While hospital life was lonely, it was less painful than the constant bullying that I experienced in the real world.  Nearly every day I heard the word “cripple.” Through elementary and middle school, I buried the hurt of that teasing deep, yet it constantly whispered to me that I didn’t count, that I didn’t belong, that I’d always be an outsider.  I learned to stuff my feelings, to please others, to be the good girl on the outside, but inside I was a self-absorbed mess.

I grew up in the church, but I wanted nothing to do with this God that I heard about. But at the same my life had no joy, just bitterness and anger. I knew something was missing.

So one night, in the darkness, I cried out to Jesus. I wanted the issue settled. I wondered, is God really there? So I simply whispered, “God, if you are real, please show me.”

My question was sincere, and I waited for a response. Some indication that I’d been heard. When nothing happened, I rolled over and fell sleep, my suspicions confirmed.

When I woke the next day, I wondered if I’d get an answer. I didn’t expect to. But to cover my bases, I decided to read the Bible. Reaching over to my nightstand, I pulled out an unopened RSV translation that had sat there untouched for years.

Flipping aimlessly through the pages, I read whatever passages my eyes landed upon. They didn’t make sense. As usual. Leviticus had weird rules and Chronicles had endless pages of names.  I was about to put the Bible away, convinced that God indeed was not real, when I stopped to ask a question.

“Why?”

“Why did all of this happen to me?  If you are so loving, why did I get polio?  Why have I had to struggle my whole life? How can You possibly be good?” I thumbed through the Bible one last time looking for answers.

It fell open to the Gospel of John and I began reading at John 9:Continue Reading

When Disappointment Comes…

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I received some upsetting news the other day.

As soon as I heard it, my heart started pounding and a cold chill swept through my body. I could barely process what I’d been told. It was completely unexpected. My first response was, “I can’t believe this is happening. Jesus, have mercy on me. And help me to respond well.”

When I had time to calm down and think through the next steps, my second response emerged. I asked God to fix the situation. Or, more accurately, to make it go away. I didn’t want to face it or walk through it. I wanted God to take it away, make it right, prevent me from suffering. That would be easiest for me.

And then came my third response. I’m not proud of it.

I thought: “Why me? Why do hard things always happen to me? Things were getting better – but now they are getting worse again. My life is filled with disappointment, but what more could I expect? My life never turns out well.”

I am ashamed as I write those words. Ashamed that I so easily fall into self-pity. Ashamed that I conveniently forget all of the incredible blessings the Lord has given me, particularly in the last year. When things are bad, I respond by complaining. Whining to God that my life is harder than other people’s.

I assume everyone else has perfect health. Fulfilling lives. Conflict-free relationships. Successful careers. Thriving children. Insignificant problems.

In short, I overestimate my problems and minimize other people’s struggles.

Now for a little perspective – this disappointing news was not life altering. It was difficult to hear, but not insurmountable. In the scheme of life it would be an insignificant event, but in the moment it was all-consuming.

So in the midst of my pity party, I call my sister. For those of you who don’t know her, she is my rock and my reality check. She reads and edits every one of my blogs and reminds me of truth when I forget it. She keeps me grounded.

So when I start ranting about how difficult my life is, she listens. She agrees it’s a hard situation. But then I start spiraling downhill, demanding, “Why me? Why is my life harder than everyone else’s?”

She pauses to choose her words carefully. “I know it’s incredibly difficult right now. And I will be praying continually for you. But don’t believe that your life is always harder than everyone else’s. Life is hard. For everyone. You don’t always know what others are going through.”

I sigh as I lean back in my chair. She’s right, of course. Her words remind me of the quote that I recently tacked on my door: Be Kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

Everyone struggles. Worries about their children. Has hard days. Faces disappointment. Feels inadequate. Makes mistakes they wish they could erase.

After I get off the phone with her, I remember Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ words, “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?

And so I start talking.Continue Reading

Job and the Prosperity Gospel

purple job post

 

Lately I’ve been rereading the book of Job.

Over the years, this book has both shaken me and shaped me.

Job has served as a corrective lens, revealing my distorted assumptions about the rewards of a virtuous life. Through it, I have learned that my greatest joy lies not in what God gives me, but rather in God Himself. I have seen that God is sovereign over every detail of life and He deserves my worship. In all circumstances. Whether I understand them or not.

The other day, as I was reading Job, I remembered a conversation with a coworker who also loved Job. But he loved it for different reasons. He loved it for the ending which he claimed was the point of the whole book.

In his words, “Job got everything back and more for his suffering. He was blessed with more children and more money than he ever had before. That’s what the book shows us- that doing the right thing brings blessing and prosperity.”

His perspective deeply troubled me. It still does. It is the message of the “health & wealth” gospel – that God wants us to have perfect health, total happiness, and financial gain in this life. All we need to do is ask specifically and live the right way and God will come through.

Ironically, it was the book of Job that had helped reframe my perspective on God’s blessings. I saw that naming what we want and then claiming the victory is not worshipping God. It is idolatry. The focus is not on God but rather on what He can give us.  It is elevating God’s gifts above Him, the giver. And that is a great assault on God’s value.

Proponents of the prosperity gospel see things differently. They believe it’s biblical and cite Scripture to back up their claims. One such verse is John 10:10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Jesus does give us abundant life – but that does not necessarily mean material blessings. Abundant life is independent of circumstances or health or wealth or anything else.

A diagnosis of cancer, a stock market crash, or a child’s rebellion doesn’t diminish the abundant life we have in Christ. And a miraculous healing, a financial windfall, or a prodigal’s return doesn’t transform it either. Abundant life rests in the God who is Lord over the good things and the terrible things in our life. As Job says, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10)Continue Reading

Can Heaven Outweigh our Suffering?

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I’m listening to a speaker, and she’s talking about a difficult period in her life. Years when her prayers seemed unanswered and God felt distant and uncaring. Years when she gave up and even stopped praying. Years when nothing seemed to change.

I was immediately drawn into her story because I understood how that felt. I remember feeling as if I were drowning, wondering if I would ever come up for air. Gasping for breath, surviving- but just barely.

It was almost a decade before I felt that I could breathe deeply again.

I am thankful that I was finally able to catch my breath. But not everyone can. There are people who live in anguish day after day, month after month, year after year. And nothing changes. Ever. Life on this earth is just one endless struggle after another.

And on a slightly smaller scale, many of us deal with a struggle that will never go away. The death of a loved one tears a gaping hole in our heart. An irreversible debilitating disease reminds us daily of our mortality. Chronic depression ambushes us when we least expect, bringing with it desperation and inertia. Rebellious children, difficult marriages, divorce, financial ruin, loneliness, regret. Some of this pain will never get better. Not in this life.

As I’m thinking about this, it all sounds so hopeless, and I’m feeling despair for the millions of people whose lives are marked by pain. I realize my hope often rests in the assumption that things will eventually get better. And if they never do, could it all be worth it?

As I’m pondering that idea, she says it. The words that change everything.

One day, in heaven, all our longings will be met or will fade away.

Of course. That’s it. That’s what we need to hold onto. That is the truth worth suffering for, living for, and dying for.

Heaven will change everything. Things may or may not get better for us in this life, but one day, one glorious day, everything will be made new. One day, in the blink of an eye, it will all be changed.

I have been thinking about this all week, wondering why I don’t write or speak more about heaven. Much as I have been blessed by knowing God on this earth, and His comfort and incredible love in the midst of great sorrow, it should pale in comparison to the joys of heaven.

The Bible constantly reminds us that our present sufferings must be viewed in light of eternity. Romans 8:18 says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us.”

Paul knew that this life alone would never be able to balance the scales of suffering. But it wasn’t meant to. We were made for heaven, for eternal life. Looking at this life in the context of heaven is the only way to make sense of suffering. Continue Reading