The Unexpected Answers of God (Jon Bloom -desiringgod.org)

In John 16:23–24, Jesus makes a stunning, sweeping, glorious promise to us:

In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
So we ask the Father for things we long for because we want the full joy he offers us. And we don’t ask for trivial or fleshly things, because we know what the Apostle James says: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3). No, we pray for greater faith, love, holiness, wisdom, discernment, experience of God’s grace, boldness, joy in God, and less satisfaction with worldly things.

Unexpected Answers

Such longings and prayers are sincere and God loves them and loves to answer them. But we do not know ourselves very well, nor the depth or pervasiveness of our sin, nor what it really requires of us in order to receive what we ask for. We can’t help but have unreal, romantic imaginations and expectations about what God’s answers to our prayers will be.

Therefore, we are often unprepared for the answers we receive from God. His answers frequently do not look at first like answers. They look like problems. They look like trouble. They look like loss, disappointment, affliction, conflict, sorrow, and increased selfishness. They cause deep soul-wrestling and expose sins and doubts and fears. They are not what we expect and we often do not see how they correspond to our prayers.

What Should We Expect?

If we ask God for greater, deeper love for him, what should we expect to receive? Answers that give us a greater awareness of our deep and pervasive sinful depravity, because those who are forgiven much, love much, but those who are forgiven little, love little (Luke 7:47).

If we ask God to help us love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31), what should we expect to receive? Answers that force us to give unexpected attention to a neighbor (who we might not put in that category (Luke 10:29)), which are inconvenient and irritating.

If we ask for God’s nearness because we believe that it is good for us to be near God (Psalm 73:28), what should we expect to receive? Answers that break our hearts, for God is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).

If we ask God to make us living sacrifices (Romans 12:2), what should we expect to receive? Answers that break and humble our hearts because the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit (Psalm 51:17).

If we ask God for a deeper experience of his grace, what should we expect to receive? Answers that oppose our pride and humble our hearts (James 4:6).

If we ask God for his kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10) in our own lives and in the world around us, what should we expect to receive? Answers that reveal our deep spiritual poverty, because the kingdom is given to the poor in spirit (Matthew 6:3).

If we ask God to satisfy us with himself so that we aren’t so easily satisfied by the world’s mud puddles, what should we expect to receive? Answers that cause us to be increasingly aware of the evil and suffering and injustices of the world because those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied (Matthew 5:6).

If we ask God for greater wisdom and discernment, what should we expect to receive? A steady stream of mind-bending, confusing answers that are difficult to understand and work through because our powers of discernment are trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:14).

If we ask God to “increase our faith” (Luke 17:5), what should we expect to receive? To repeatedly be put into situations where we discover that our perceptions are not trustworthy so that we are forced to trust Christ’s promises, “for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

If we ask God to help us “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Colossians 1:10), what should we expect to receive? Answers that require more humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2) than we thought possible and might result in destitution, affliction, and mistreatment, like many saints throughout history, “of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:38).

If we ask God to help us stop serving money so that we can serve him more wholeheartedly, what should we expect to receive? An uncomfortable amount of opportunities to give money away, expenses that deplete reserves we’ve been stashing away, maybe even a job loss — answers that push us to us despise (ignore, turn away from, release) money and cling to God (Luke 16:13).

If we ask for our joy to be made more full (John 16:24), to experience more happiness in God, what should we expect to receive? Answers that cause us to find earthly joys we once thought gain to become empty, hollow, and loss and push us to search for the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus and find him gain above all else (Philippians 3:8).

Expect the Unexpected

When God begins to answer our prayers, we often find his answers disorienting. Circumstances might take unexpected courses, health might deteriorate, painful relational dynamics might develop, financial difficulties might occur, and spiritual and emotional struggles might emerge that seem unconnected and we can feel like we’re digressing from not progressing toward the sanctification we desire. We cry out in painful confusion and exasperation (Psalm 13:1; Job 30:20), when what’s really happening is that God is answering our prayers. We just expected the answer to look and feel different.

This being true, we might be tempted to not even ask God for such things. I mean, who wants unpleasant answers to prayers for joy?

Don’t be deceived into this short-sighted thinking. Remember Jesus’s promise: “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24). If the path to full joy is sometimes hard, and Jesus tells us it is (John 16:33; Matthew 7:14), that is no reason not to take it! What do you want? Low, shallow, thin joys? No! Go for full joy! And remember what the writer of Hebrews tells us:

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)

With regard to God’s answers to prayer, expect the unexpected. Most of the greatest gifts and deepest joys that God gives us come wrapped in painful packages.

This year, I asked God for two things.

1. An unshakeable faith in Him
2. To know Him like never before

He has answered my prayers, in ways I have least imagined.
I did not expect to cry so many tears or battle with so many doubts and insecurities.
But through this He is working out something beautiful, the afflictions and fiery trials are only to bring about a greater good in my life.

He is all-powerful, infinitely wise and eternally trustworthy – the God who has revealed Himself in His word and in the person of Jesus Christ, whose promises have proven true from generation to generation, and who will never leave nor forsake His own.

Lord, I believe.

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Putting Pain into Perspective

We can avoid cynicism and disillusionment not just by looking at Jesus, but also by seeing what He is doing in our lives through the conflicts, heartaches, the sins, which are part of our daily existence wherever we are.

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When Words Fail

My heart broke at the sight of her shaven head. Where beautiful black hair was once her feminine adornment, a simple black hat now covered her head.

Lord, what just do I say?

Words are so feeble.

Just what do I say to bring comfort or hope, without sounding hypocritical or clueless about her suffering and pain?

I’m afraid of throwing spiritual clichés at her.

God, help.

What do you say to a woman who has just been sexually abused by her own father?

God, what???

I sometimes forget that you grieve and hurt more over the abuse and pain inflicted on your children than the victims or I do.

Had I remembered your tears at Bethany then maybe I would have understood.

God, help.

You have shown me hope and purpose even through this illness and heartbreak, how do I share this hope and life and peace You have given me?

You’ve got to help me.

For those who have suffered so much more than I have.

Lost a spouse.

Undergoing chemotherapy.

Losing a breast because of the ugly, ravaging disease called cancer.

Raising a child with special needs.

I am inadequate for I have not suffered in such a magnitude.

Your road to Calvary Lord, has to be the answer.

Lord, please.

Please be the answer to them today.

Rainbows

“When a Christian consciously sees the smile and love of God during troubles, the true glory and beauty of that Christian’s life is shown to the world. Do you see only the rain of your current circumstances? What suffering are you wasting? As you trust His promises, God gives grace to triumph over circumstances so your suffering shines with His resurrection power. Will you purposefully look to see God’s glory revealed to you in your current trial?” -BSF Lesson 9 Series 1

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It has been a tough week, a week of failure, disappointment and frustration. I cannot ever remember taking failure so bad as I did last week. It felt like a slap in the face and definitely a wound to my pride. Pride. Never thought pride was one of my struggles since I wasn’t a very confident person anyway. HAH! How wrong I was.

I was talking to a friend one evening, who happens to have a similar medical condition as I do. As we were talking about the possible challenges the illness could bring to other aspects of our lives, I was telling him how I felt God was teaching me patience and humility though the blows I have been experiencing lately. Blows in my health, personal life and even in my work. It seemed like before I got over one challenge, another one was waiting for me… It really takes patience to bear these punches in stride, and humility to accept them while rejoicing with those who are experiencing the blessings that you have been waiting to have. He responded to me by saying, “I am so jelak of eating humble pie” (which literally means, he has humble pie coming out of his ears!) I could relate. I am sure some of you can too, right! I don’t think God is angry when we tell him that we have humble pie coming out of our ears, though He may lovingly respond, “It is good for you, my dear.”

Dear God, I desire to be brought into Your green pastures and still waters. Help me not to waste this season, by only looking at the rain and grim circumstances. Let me be reminded by the rainbows of Your promises that better days are to come. Better days, not because I receive what I want, but better days because I learn to want whatever You desire me to have.

To desire the things that are truly important.

And then, I shall truly not be in want.

‘Thou are my Fa…

‘Thou are my Father, and I am thy child; and thou, as a Father art tender and full of mercy.

‘I could not bear to see my child suffer as thou makest me suffer, and if I saw him tormented as I am now, I would do what I could to help him, and put my arms under him to sustain him.

‘Wilt thou hide thy face from me, my Father? Wilt thou still lay on a heavy hand, and not give me a smile from thy countenance?’

-Charles Spurgeon

His desperate prayer when he could no longer bear with the physical pain he was suffering.

You can read more here :- http://livingbyfaithblog.com/2012/03/16/how-spurgeon-saw-his-pain-and-depression/

Living life to the fullest

Had quite a rough morning today. On top of my myalgia pains, I had to battle with severe gastritis and colic. Wrong morning to be sick. Was going back and forth in my mind whether I should skip the BSF class and just pull myself together to see my students’ off at Hotel Royal for their graded exams. There wasn’t much time left to vacillate so okay lah, just shower and get dressed and GO!

The pains were incredible and as I was driving to church I was retching away. Felt superbly rotten, and really didn’t know how I was going to survive the busy morning with the back and neck pains, and gastric pains, and nausea. Suffering buffet 😀

The most amazing thing happened when I stepped into the church meeting hall though. My pains left instantly and completely! Couldn’t be a coincidence. What an encouraging lesson it was for me today. A reminder to live life to the fullest and not be held back by limitations or discouragement. It’s not so much about the act of stepping into a church that makes me healed but it’s living life for the Lord completely surrendered and trusting Him to use even a wretched, ill and weak body to His glory and service.

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Graded exams done for today, diploma exams on Monday morning.

Really grateful that my students played well this morning. Then, to add to the blessedness of it all, A’s mum invited me to join her and A for lunch at a lovely cafe. Praise God who satisfies me with good things and renews my strength, both physically and emotionally, through the care and love of such angels. I am grateful for the friendships I forge with my students’ parents. Sometimes, it’s hot excited chatter about politics, shopping, food, and other times, it would be about God, faith, life and their personal beliefs. Another of God’s gracious provision, to be blessed with students who have such generous and big-hearted parents. :’)

I will really miss a few of my students who will be leaving very soon. Three, because they have completed their Music Diplomas and another two when they leave for Australia next year. Empty-nest syndrome somewhat (hehe) since I have watched most of them grow from primary-school children to now high school/college students. However, I am grateful to have been given an opportunity to invest in their lives and be so blessed in return.

I don’t know what to do anymore!

It is 3:26am as I write this and I just had another episode of gastric pain and nausea.

The past month has been the roughest, I feel ill everyday. (surprise, surprise, I look normal right?) The back and neck pains had gotten so intense that I could never find a comfortable position to sleep on at night, will be flipping about in bed feeling utterly frustrated and helpless…

I really don’t know what’s going on in my body, I don’t know what to do with myself anymore!

I get hunger pangs every two hours and have to eat. I didn’t realise how troublesome this can be (since I’ve always enjoyed snacking anyway)… but these hunger pangs are strange! Biscuits aren’t good enough, it has to be something more satiating like an egg, some soup etc…

12:30pm lunch

2:45pm an egg tart

4:30pm biscuits (am at work)

7pm dying of hunger and ate a burger as I drove home from work

8:30pm arrived at cell group and hungry again

10:30pm Supper: congee, spaghetti in soup, tiramisu and a little cheese-baked seafood

1am HUNGRY AGAIN… had biscuits

3am Warm Manuka honey. Stomach pain, retching away at the sink, waves of pain…

This so-called food itinerary is just to illustrate the strangeness of what I’m going through… I don’t know what to do with myself anymore…

I am writing this because I want you to know that it’s not always a rosy picture of me having faith and trust in God all the time. I struggle with doubts too, and do not have the answers for everything.

This blog is a record of my journey, and I purpose to share as honestly as I can what the Lord teaches me through every blessing and trial that comes my way. This just happens to be one of the roughest and saddest patches of my life thus far.

That I may not cause pain!

Oh, that You would bless me indeed,

And enlarge my territory,

that Your hand would be with me,

and that You would keep me from evil,

that I may not cause pain!

1 Chronicles 4:10

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Can’t think of a better prayer. Every day passes so quickly, fatigue overwhelms me at the end of each day. I am really drained emotionally and physically and am depending on the Lord for His grace and blessing as I meet and interact with different people.

I see myself as the widow with only two copper coins to offer (emotionally, that is). While others may be able to give so much from their wealth of experience, expertise and even charisma, I feel as though I’m offering a measly, pathetic offering of feeble attempts. Through this state of emptiness and depletion, I sense God’s desire to meet the needs of the people around me, through me. My inadequacy and helplessness is apparent and the best thing I can do for most of them is to lift them up in prayer…

I guess this is how the family of God works… God gives us burdens to pray for others, and He burdens others to pray for us! Cos maybe we are too tired of mouthing our needs and requests to God over and over again, and God understands that 😛 hehe hope it’s not theologically unsound 😀

If only pain could be something I could snap out of quickly, how nice it would be 🙂 I was asking Mama the other day, “Why can’t my life be more “normal”,with less “drama” and definitely less “diarrhoea inducing” moments… And she simply said something along the lines of “How can you expect God’s glory to be displayed through you if your life is “normal”?” (Read: problem-free). Not that I’m any more special than you are even if the index reading of my problems and woes are markedly higher than yours, though.

Chin up, be of good courage. This season will pass.

The unattractiveness of a complaining spirit…

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Taken by my bro, Sam 🙂

I’m back!

It’s funny how I tend to be inspired with a lot to say on days that I’m busy but when I actually have time to blog, my mind becomes an empty canvas (in a bad way-I am uninspired).

Have had a lot on my mind recently. There is always the question of “Why did God bring me through this whole roller coaster ride, to invest so much time and prayer and effort (of many wonderful people too!), just for all these to come to naught?” I have come to the acceptance that there will be no answers for these questions, at least not in the near future.

Why does God allow my pain to prolong? Isn’t one kind of pain enough? Pain externally and also pain internally…  Then I begin to make sinful comparisons and wonder why others seem to have it so easy for them (yeah, I know. Smack my head.)

A complaining spirit saps you of joy. It clouds your vision – overwhelms you with your heartaches and trials and clouds your eyes to God’s goodness and the many blessings you already have in your life.

We tend to see complaining as a “milder” sin compared to lying, anger or lust, but judging from how God punished the Israelites for complaining in the wilderness, we had better take heed.

God repeatedly warns in His word about trusting and obeying Him, remembering His goodness, not forgetting His discipline and having eyes of faith when all looks bleak.

When I complain, it not only discourages the person who listens to it, but it brings dishonour to the Lord Whom I profess to be sovereignly wise, always loving and all powerful.

If only my responses could be right through these trials, so that God’s glory could be shown amidst the rubble and broken pieces of my life… No, I have not reached that stage yet. Christ be praised when that day comes 🙂

I will not pray for an easy path to walk on, for God has commanded us to carry our cross daily and follow Him… But I pray for stronger faith, vision with the end in mind, and a willing and surrendered heart.

Some of my favourite verses this week:

Deuteronomy 7:12-13

English Standard Version (ESV)

12 “And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers. 13 He will love you, bless you, and multiply you.

1 Corinthians 10:9-13

9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

God bless! Have a good weekend!

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

The truth of this statement only applies to one person: JESUS.

A sinless, perfect, holy and just man who was cruelly crucified on the cross, subject to whippings, slaps, taunting shouts by an angry mob, betrayed by his friends…

If I were to receive what I truly deserve, it would be hell fire. I may not murder, steal, commit adultery with another man… but the very sin of unforgiveness, envy, lust, disobedience to parents and an idolatrous heart would have caused me to break 5 of God’s commandments already. His standard for holiness is not ceiling-high, it’s sky high, way past what men can humanly achieve… No matter how we try to “correct” our mistakes or punish ourselves, it would not be enough to merit His forgiveness and acceptance…

It is grace

At this very second, I’m battling a splitting headache, dizziness and terrible nausea. I had prepared dinner just hours earlier while struggling with this weakness and horrible, yucky feeling…

Most people who don’t know me well enough will not know that I’m battling with this insidious illness called SLE. A flare will bring symptoms such as a sore throat, ulcers in the mouth, joint pains, dizziness, headaches, confusion, depression… but what is more serious is when your immune system starts attacking the important organs in your body.

God has been so merciful to me and my blood tests have always come out “Excellent”… I am way better off than many other sick people who have to undergo chemotherapy or dialysis… Honestly I don’t know how they cope 😥 

But still, there are crosses to bear… I find that this illness does affect me cognitively at times. I feel confused and a little scared when I drive at times cos I will suddenly feel as though I may bang any random car while parking, or feel lost at an unfamiliar place. This doesn’t happen often, thankfully.

Then there are evenings when I am awake, unable to find a position comfortable enough to sleep due to the fibromyalgia that plagues my neck and upper back… or I’m standing over the sink retching away…

But I don’t know what else I could attribute my normalcy in living to, except God’s amazing grace.

Most days, I am upbeat, up and about teaching, cooking/baking over the weekend, meeting up with friends for meals, going for walks, swimming, gymming, serving in Sunday School with rambunctious children 🙂 … 

Amazing. I wouldn’t have thought that possible a year ago.  

The chorus of this song by Phillips, Craig and Dean expresses my life right now:

Joy unspeakable that won’t go away
And just enough strength
To live for today
So I never have to worry
What tomorrow will bring
‘Cause my faith is on solid rock
I am counting on God

When I first started this blog, I didn’t know how personal I wanted my postings to be… 

I really don’t know if I’ll live to 37, 57 or 77… 

But if God has placed us here as an open book to the world, then I had better be a real and true open book… I cannot portray my life as a picture-perfect canvas. There will be flaws, failures, mistakes, disappointments and heartbreaks. 

This blog is going to be a journal about how God makes a difference to this journey. 

He is the difference