I was standing in the checkout line at Wal-Mart a few years ago when my cell phone rang and I answered it to hear my sister Maria’s voice. I love my sister Maria, she is one of my very favorite people in this world. I am always happy to talk with her when she calls and it is always good to hear the sound of her voice.
“I have to share with you something sad that happened around here today,” she said almost immediately after I said hello.
“What? What happened that is so sad?” I asked, trying not to sound too alarmed as not to draw undo attention from the people around me that couldn’t help but listen to my voice as I was talking on the phone.
“One of the nurses that works here committed suicide last night,” she told me.
“Oh, that is so sad. That is just so sad. You know Maria, life is really hard for many people. So many people are dealing with such tough things.”
Just that morning I had talked with a lady that is burdened with such a load of care. It seems like every area of her life is filled with cracks and crevices and all the blessings that are poured into her life seem to run right through and are poured right out. My heart had been so heavy for her after I talked with her. I had been praying for her just about every minute before my cell phone rang.
“You just never know what someone is going through,” I said to my sister, “They may look all put together and successful on the outside, but behind the scenes they have to struggle with so much.”
“Yes, this woman had a lot of family problems and I know that these problems were something that greatly discouraged her. It’s just so sad though, that she wasn’t able to see God’s purpose in it all.”
When she said this I immediately asked myself, “What is God’s purpose in it all?” I mean, I have been praying for a handful of women that are dealing with the kind of pain that many of us couldn’t ever even consider, much less be capable to deal with. And as I watch them suffer (most of them so graciously), I wonder . . . What is the purpose of it all? Why doesn’t God make it all better? Why won’t others cooperate with the good that they are trying to do? Why were they allowed to struggle and be taken advantage?
I have a silly saying that I use to express a person’s satisfaction with their lives and themselves and it goes like this, “They are all that and a bag of chips.” But what about these women I am praying so earnestly for? Why all this and no bag of chips?
I don’t know. I just don’t know. And although I do know that it is not usually God’s desire for His people to suffer, suffering often comes anyway because our lives are affected by the sinful choices of others. It is not something that He usually wills . . . it is just something that He must allow.
Today I heard from another friend that I pray for. This friend is a good strong woman who loves the Lord and does everything she knows how to do His will. She is beyond hurting . . . she is frustrated. And I don’t blame her. It is frustrating to spend so much time sowing good only to turn around and feel that you are reaping nothing good in return.
“How can I pray effectively for these friends?” I have asked the Lord so many times. “What can I say to encourage them when they are down?”
The answer always seems to be the same ~ pattern your prayers after Habakkuk’s prayer in Habakkuk chapter three . . . placing special emphasis on the three verses at the very end.
” Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.”
What does God want us to pray when we pray for them? He wants us to pray that they would look past their struggles and remind themselves of the joy that is found in Him. Not in what He does, but in Who He Is. And who is He? He is the One who saved them and the One who wants to strengthen them. But in order for this to occur, they must take their eyes off of their troubles and turn them towards being happy to be His.
I know that this is not something that is always easy to do . . . especially when everything around them is falling apart. But according to Habakkuk 3:17-19, it is something possible for them to do . . . if they could only just put their mind to it. And Proverbs 12:25 teaches us exactly what we can do to help them with this.
“Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad.”
What can we do to help them to “rejoice in the Lord” again? We can bring them a good word.
When people are struggling, they don’t need to hear what we think they are doing wrong or what we think they can do to make things better. They need to hear good words. Encouraging words. Words that will make them laugh and remind them that they are cared for and loved.
“I guess all we can do for people that are struggling is pray for them and do our best to encourage them,” my sister said to me on the phone on that day.
“It’s funny that you said this,” I told her, “Because I just put a box of chocolates on the conveyor belt that I am buying to give to a friend on Sunday. You are right. I can’t do anything to change what she is going through, but I can pray and I can do something sweet ~ and I know that whenever someone brings me a box of chocolates, I always feel better.”
Dr. Hyles (who was our pastor when we were in Bible College) used to say, “Be kind to everyone, because everyone is having a tough time.” As a man that pastored tens of thousands of people, He was well acquainted with the reality that many people struggle and are suffering because of lives filled with “all this and no bag of chips.”
And when they did, he used to do all he could to encourage them. There are so many stories of how he helped people financially, spiritually, socially and emotionally. He bought plane tickets, houses for people to live in, put braces on children’s teeth, fasted and prayed for others and spent hours and hours listening to people and counseling them with God ‘s Word. And in the end, many of them were encouraged and were able to regain their strength and their desire to rejoice in the Lord and go on.
I think about him and Mrs. Hyles so often during these times of being burdened for the genuine hurting hearts of others. I think about the load of sadness that they carried and the concern for their people that they had. I used to wonder how they did it.
But now I know how they did it. They did it through the tool of good words . . . words spoken to God for mercy and grace to be shown and words spoken to them that would make them glad.
So, what’s the moral of this story? If you know someone that is having a hard time, be kind to them. Give them a call. Take them out for breakfast or treat them to lunch. Give them some money, buy them a present, listen to them when they talk . . . and pray for them each and every day. Pray without ceasing and sometime even fast and pray. Sometimes this is all we can do . . . but in the economy of God it is often the best thing we can do.
I am a firm believer that God wastes nothing, and I don’t believe that He allows the sufferings of others to go to waste either. And even though I don’t know everything that He is doing with the tears that are shed or the pain that is felt . . . I know one thing He is doing with them . . . He is using them to teach the rest of us how important it is to pray for and be willing to biblically encourage others.