According to Chinese legend, when Sai Weng lost one of his prized horses, his neighbor expressed sorrow for his loss. But Sai Weng was unconcerned. He said, “Who knows if it may be a good thing for me?” Surprisingly, the lost horse returned home with another horse. As the neighbor congratulated him, Sai Weng said, “Who knows if it may be a bad thing for me?” As it turned out, his son broke his leg when he rode on the new horse. This seemed like a misfortune, until the army arrived at the village to recruit all able-bodied men to fight in the war. Because the son’s injury, he wasn’t recruited which ultimately could have spared him from death.
This is the story behind the Chinese proverb which teaches that a difficulty can be a blessing in disguise and vice versa. This ancient wisdom has a close parallel in Ecclesiastes 6:12, where the author observes: “For who knows what is good for a person in life?” Indeed, none of us know what the future holds. An adversity might have positive benefits and prosperity might have ill effects.
Each day offers new opportunities, joys, struggles, and suffering. As God’s beloved children, we can rest in His sovereignty and trust Him through the good and bad times alike. God has “made the one as well as the other” (7:14). He’s with us in all the events in our lives and promises His loving care.
Su Dongpo (also known as Su Shi), was one of China’s greatest poets and essayists. While in exile and gazing upon a full moon, he wrote a poem to describe how much he missed his brother. “We rejoice and grieve, gather and leave, while the moon waxes and wanes. Since times of old, nothing remains perfect,” he writes. “May our loved ones live long, beholding this beautiful scene together though thousands of miles apart.”
His poem carries themes found in the book of Ecclesiastes (1:1). The author, known as the Teacher, observed that there’s “a time to weep and a time to laugh . . . a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing” (3:4–5). By pairing two contrasting activities, the Teacher, like Su Dongpo, seems to suggest that all good things must inevitably come to an end.
As Su Dongpo saw the waxing and waning of the moon as another sign that nothing remains perfect, the Teacher also saw in creation God’s providential ordering of the world He’d made. God oversees the course of events, and “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (v. 11).
Life may be unpredictable and sometimes filled with painful separations, but we can take heart that everything takes place under God’s gaze. We can enjoy life and treasure the moments—the good and the bad—for our loving God is with us.
A teenager named Aldi was working alone on a fishing hut anchored about 125 kilometres (about 78 miles) off Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island when heavy winds knocked the hut off its mooring and sent it out to sea. For forty-nine days, Aldi drifted in the ocean. Every time he spotted a ship he would turn on his lamp to try and get the sailors’ attention, only to be disappointed. About ten ships passed the malnourished teen before he was rescued by a Panamanian vessel.
Jesus told a parable to an “expert in the law” (Luke 10:25) about someone who needed to be rescued. Two men—a priest and a Levite—saw an injured man as they were traveling. But rather than help him, both “passed by on the other side” (vv. 31–32). We aren’t told why they failed to help. Both were religious men and would have been familiar with God’s law to love their neighbor (Leviticus 19:17–18). They may have thought it was too dangerous. Or perhaps they didn't want to break Jewish laws about touching dead bodies, making them ceremonially unclean and unable to serve in the temple. In contrast, however, a Samaritan—who was despised by the Jews—acted nobly. He saw the man in need and took care of him selflessly.
Jesus wrapped up His teaching with the command that His followers should “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). May God give us the willingness to reach out in love and take the risk to help others.
MingTeck woke up with a severe headache and thought it was another migraine. But when he got out of bed, he collapsed onto the floor. He was admitted to the hospital where the doctors informed him he’d had a stroke. After four months of rehabilitation, he recovered his ability to think and talk, but still walks with a painful limp. He often struggles with despair, but he finds great comfort from the book of Job.
Job lost all his wealth and his children overnight. Despite the harrowing news, he at first looked to God in hope and praised Him for being the source of everything. He acknowledged God’s sovereign hand even in times of calamity (Job 1:21). We marvel at his strong faith, but Job also struggled with despair. After he lost his health too (2:7), he cursed the day he was born (3:1). He was honest with his friends and God about his pain. Eventually, however, he came to accept that both good and bad come from God’s hand (13:15; 19:25–27).
In our sufferings, we too may find ourselves vacillating between despair and hope, doubt and faith. God doesn’t require us to be dauntless in the face of adversity but instead invites us to come to Him with our questions. Though our faith may fail at times, we can trust God to always be faithful.
A new believer in Jesus was desperate to read the Bible. However, he’d lost his eyesight and both hands in an explosion. When he heard about a woman who read Braille with her lips, he tried to do the same—only to discover that the nerve endings of his lips had also been destroyed. Later, he was filled with joy when he discovered that he could feel the Braille characters with his tongue! He had found a way to read and enjoy Scripture.
Joy and delight were the emotions the prophet Jeremiah experienced when he read the God’s Word. “When your words came, I ate them,” he said, “they were my joy and my heart’s delight” (Jeremiah 15:16). Unlike the people of Judah who despised His words (8:9), Jeremiah had been obedient and rejoiced in them. His obedience, however, also led to the prophet being rejected by his own people and persecuted unfairly (15:17).
Some of us may have experienced something similar. We once read the Bible with joy, but obedience to God led to suffering and rejection from others. Like Jeremiah, we can bring our confusion to God. He answered Jeremiah by repeating the promise He gave him when He first called him to be a prophet (vv. 19-21; see 1:18–19). God reminded him that He never lets His people down. We can have this same confidence too. He’s faithful and will never abandon us.
Samuel Mills and four of his friends often gathered together to pray for God to send people into the world to share the good news of Jesus. One August day in 1806, after returning from their prayer meeting, they got caught in a thunderstorm and took refuge in the shelter of a haystack. Their weekly prayer gathering then became known as the Haystack Prayer Meeting, which resulted in a global mission movement. Today the Haystack Prayer Monument stands at Williams College in Massachusetts as a reminder of what God can do in answer to prayer.
Our heavenly Father is delighted when His children approach Him with a common request. It’s like a family gathering where His children are united in purpose, sharing a common burden.
The apostle Paul acknowledges how God helped him through the prayers of others during a time of severe suffering: “He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers” (2 Corinthians 1:10–11). God has chosen to use our prayers—especially our prayers together—to accomplish His work in our lives and in the world. No wonder the verse continues: “Then many will give thanks . . . [for the] answer to the prayers of many.”
Let’s pray together so we can also rejoice together in God’s goodness. Our loving Father is waiting for us to come to Him so He can work through us in ways that reach far beyond anything we could ever imagine.
Stephen Cass, an editor at Discover magazine, was determined to investigate some of the invisible things that are part of his daily life. As he walked toward his office in New York City, he mused: “If I could see radio waves, the top of the Empire State Building [with its host of radio and TV antennas] would be lit like a kaleidoscopic flare, illuminating the entire city.” He realized he was surrounded by an invisible electromagnetic bedlam of radio and TV signals, Wi-Fi, and more.
Elisha’s servant learned about another kind of unseen reality—the invisible spiritual world—one morning. He awoke to find himself and his master surrounded by the armies of Aram. As far as his eyes could see, there were thousands of soldiers mounted on powerful warhorses (2 Kings 6:15)! The servant was afraid, but Elisha was confident because he saw the army of angels that surrounded them. He said: “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (v. 16). Then he asked the Lord to open his servant’s eyes so he too could see that the Lord had surrounded their enemy and He was in control (v. 17).
Do you feel overpowered and helpless? Remember that God is in control and fights for you. He “will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:11). May we fix our eyes on this unseen reality.
The day started out like any other, but it ended as a nightmare. Esther (not her real name) and several hundred women were kidnapped from their boarding school by a religious militant group. A month later all were released—except for Esther who refused to deny Christ. As my friend and I read about her and others who are being persecuted for their faith, our hearts were moved. We wanted to do something. But what?
When writing to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul shared about the trouble he experienced in the province of Asia. The persecution was so severe that he and his companions “despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). However, Paul was helped by the prayers of believers (v. 11). Though the Corinthian church was many miles away from Paul, their prayers mattered and God heard them. Herein lies an amazing mystery: the sovereign God has chosen to use our prayers to accomplish His purpose. What a privilege!
Today we can continue to remember our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering for their faith. There is something we can do. We can pray for those who are marginalized, oppressed, beaten, tortured, and sometimes even killed for their faith in Christ? Let’s pray for them to experience God’s comfort and encouragement and to be strengthened with hope as they stand firmly with Jesus.
One Saturday afternoon, some teenagers from my church’s youth group gathered in a cafeteria to ask one another some hard questions based on Philippians 2:3–4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Some of the difficult queries included: How often do you take an interest in others? Would someone describe you as humble or proud? Why?
As I listened, I was encouraged by their honest answers. The group agreed that it’s easy to acknowledge our shortcomings, but it’s hard to change, or—for that matter—desire to change. As one teen uttered, “Selfishness is in my blood.”
The desire to let go of our focus on self to humbly serve others is only possible through Jesus’s Spirit living in us. That’s why Paul reminded the Philippian church to reflect on what God had done and made possible for them. He had graciously adopted them, comforted them with His love, and given His Spirit to help them (Philippians 2:1–2). How could they—and we—respond to such grace with anything less than humility?
Yes, God is the reason for us to change, and only He can change us. Because He gives us “the desire and power to do what pleases Him” (v.13