Category Archives: Personal Struggles

Why did God Give our Pets Such Short Life Spans?

Although land tortoises can live over 150 years and parrots sometimes live as long as people, most pets have short life spans Perhaps the Lord gave our pets short life spans to keep us from getting more attached to them than to our fellow human beings. Since the love of some intelligent pets for their human masters is remarkably unconditional, they often establish a deep emotional connection with us. In fact, we sometimes find it easier to love them unconditionally than each other.

The emotional impact of the death of a family’s pet is like the loss of any family member, though on a lesser scale. It offers opportunities for learning important lessons in preparation for future losses that will be worse. The grief at a pet’s death can bring an awareness of our need for deeper relationships with the people in our lives.

 

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How Can We Love our Neighbor as Our Self, as Jesus Commanded?

Loving other people as oneself is a difficult goal. But Jesus clearly made it fundamental to Christian living. On one occasion, an expert in the Jewish law challenged Jesus with the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Luke 10:27 NKJV).

Although the goal of loving one’s neighbor as oneself is difficult, it isn’t impossible.  In Luke 6:36-38, Jesus gives some basic principles that help us understand what it involves:

Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you (NKJV).

This passage contains two principles. One principle is that our expectations of our neighbors are directly related to the expectations that will be placed on us. As Jesus said, “With the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” The expectations we have of others will be required by them (and God) of us. But even subjectively, we already love—or hate—our neighbors as ourselves. We subconsciously project our own attitudes and values upon other people, expecting them to perceive us as we perceive them. If we are impatient and judgmental towards others, we assume others will be impatient and judgmental towards us. If we are compassionate and patient towards others, we won’t have to deal with the pressures that come from assuming that others view us with hostility and impatience. Love or hatred directed outwards is always matched by love or hatred directed inwards.

The second principle is that love for one’s neighbor should never be confused with indulgence. A father who gives his children anything they want spoils them. If we love our neighbor as our self, we must be as careful in setting standards and goals for him as we do for ourselves. If God were a genie in a lamp who gave us anything we wanted, would we ever be satisfied? Of course not! Love for our neighbor involves the same principle. While love always seeks to promote the other person’s well-being, at times it is manifested in acts of charity and at other times in firm confrontation.

Our neighbor is just like us. At times he needs mercy, at times he needs correction, but he always needs our love.

 

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What Did Jesus Mean, “Lead Us Not Into Temptation”?

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Do not lead us into temptation” (Matthew 6:13), He was not implying that God would ever encourage us to sin. Scripture makes this clear:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone (James 1:13).

Nor was He implying that there is something unusual about being subjected to temptation.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Peter 4:12-14 NIV).

Rather, Jesus was modeling the healthy self-distrust that should mark every child of God. He was showing us that we must be continually conscious of our own weakness and of the wiles of our enemy. We are not to have any false assurance about our ability to do as well as Jesus did when “put to the test” by Satan in the wilderness. Instead, we are to recognize our inclination to be headstrong like Peter, thinking he was equal to any challenge that might come his way (Luke 22:31-34,54-62.)

We as God’s children never have to give in to temptation, for God will “make the way of escape” (1 Corinthians 10:13 nkjv), but we must be conscious of our vulnerability. Jesus therefore emphasized the need for humble dependence on God. He called us to recognize our human frailty and to acknowledge that we on our own are no match for our triple foe: the world, the flesh, and the devil.

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Why Should I Pray When it Doesn’t Seem that God Hears My Prayers?

It is part of the human condition to struggle with a sense of God’s silence—or absence. The disciples and the prophets had moments of weakness and distrust that are recorded in Scripture for all of us to read.

The silence that causes us such anxiety is not only essential to growth in faith, but needed for our expression of genuine trust in prayer. Prayer and faith are the result of a process of trusting. This process involves wonder, doubt, and worry. It enables us to grow in our ability to trust God in small ways that in time make it possible for us to trust Him through the great crises of life.

Genuine prayer isn’t mere ritual, nor is it just a productive mental habit. Prayer in the midst of doubt and feelings of abandonment is essential to realizing our need for God’s help. It isn’t that faith and hope can’t grow without prayer. They can, but without it they grow only slowly and haphazardly. This is because without prayer, faith and hope grow without our conscious support and participation.

In Luke 11:9, Jesus says: “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you” (NKJV).

The order Jesus describes here is simple. We first must ask, and then it is given. We first must knock, and then the door is opened to us. If we don’t pray, we’re like people who expect to receive without asking or to have doors opened without knocking. Prayer is important because it acknowledges both our need for God’s help and our willingness to look to Him for direction. When we don’t pray, it is apparent that we consider God irrelevant and we take life, with all of its opportunities and blessings, for granted.

If we don’t consciously ask God for direction, we’ll usually lack the vision to see opportunities when they appear. Prayer nurtures vision, and vision sustains patient endurance. No wonder that Isaiah spoke of the importance of “hoping in the Lord.”

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (40:28-31 NIV).

Ask the Lord to show you what and how to pray and what to expect when you do. He will respond.

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Can Someone Be Forgiven if They Commit the Same Sin Again After Confessing and Repenting it?

No one who asks God for forgiveness can be confident that they won’t commit the same sin again. In fact, our natures are so contaminated by sin that we often do. When Peter asked Jesus whether we are obligated to forgive a person who sins against us seven times (Peter’s “seven times” more than doubled the rabbinic prescription), Jesus said: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22 NKJV).

Jesus made it clear that God’s primary concern is not mere outward behavior, but the condition of the heart Matthew 23:25-26; Mark 7:5-9; Luke 11:42-44; Luke 11:42-44. Therefore the sincerity of the confession is what counts.

Unfortunately, we can be sincere in our repentance and confession and still fall into sin again. Because believers continue to be influenced by the “flesh”—the fallen aspect of their personalities—in this world they are incapable of perfect sincerity. At times they are more vulnerable to temptation than at other times. With the passage of time, the strong awareness of evil and the ugliness of sin that brought us to repentence often fades.

Sincere confession of sin is a heartfelt acknowledgment that our sin is wrong, that we don’t want to continue in it, and that we are ready to exert ourselves—under the guidance of the Holy Spirit—to resist it. God doesn’t expect perfection, because none of us are capable of achieving it, but He does expect sincerity.

Sin is highly addictive, and when we’re not on our guard we can easily succumb to the false sense of relief we experience when we surrender to our compulsions. We need to be aware of sin’s addictive nature. Like someone who is attempting to quit smoking or drinking, the worst thing we can do is to give up on our desire to change or believe we can never change, even though we relapse in moments of weakness.

As we experience increasing freedom from sin, we will experience an increasing awareness of evil and understand more deeply how sin carries its own penalty. Each time genuine believers relapse into sin, they will experience more conviction and a more painful awareness of sin’s destructiveness. Each time they repent and confess their sins, they will be purer, stronger, and less likely to relapse.

Of course, some sins are so serious that even sincere repentance can’t erase their earthly consequences. Sins like murder and adultery can be forgiven by God in the ultimate sense and by fellow Christians in the sense of hoping for a sinner’s restoration, but the damage such sins inflict usually cannot be undone in this life, and consequences such as imprisonment or divorce may be unavoidable.

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What Should I Think of what I Experience in Dreams?

Scientific evidence is accumulating that dreams have vital physiological and psychological functions. Our dreams apparently play an important role in creativity and problem solving.

1  This and other scientific discoveries about the important physiological role of dreaming show that the mysterious activity of dreaming is “hardwired” into us by God’s design, for our benefit. For that reason, we shouldn’t fear dreaming.

The Bible illustrates how highly the Hebrews and other ancient people esteemed dreams and those who could interpret them (Genesis 41; Daniel 2), and that they viewed dreams at times as natural (Ecclesiastes 5:3), as evil (Deuteronomy 13:1-2; Jeremiah 29:8), or as divine revelation (Genesis 28:12-13; Genesis 37:5,9). ( See the ATQ article Is it possible that some dreams contain important symbolic meaning—or even a message from God?)

Like the daydreams and thoughts that drift into our minds in our conscious state, dream fantasies generally seem spontaneous. Sexual activity, rage, and violence often occur abruptly and uncontrollably in dreams. In dreams, all of us do things we certainly would never do if we were awake. We also have nightmares that seem to express our deepest fear and insecurity.

Many people describe having had “lucid dreams.” In lucid dreams, we are aware that we are dreaming and are sometimes able to choose our actions. Some early Christian ascetic monks actually believed that we are responsible not only for what we do in our waking state, but for what we do in our dreams. These monks withdrew from society and dedicated themselves to an isolated life of grueling hardship. Their solitary focus on subjective experience may have made them aware of some things that most of us don’t experience.

Occultists in many cultures have been interested in lucid dreams and have sometimes sought to cultivate lucid dreams and increase control over their fantasies. Such efforts to use occult technique to gain control over one’s dreams are sinister. At the very least, they focus attention away from the real world into a fantasy. At the worst, it may open one’s mind to overtly demonic or subconsciously destructive influences. (See the ATQ articles Why Is It Dangerous for Subconscious Images to Penetrate Our Waking Consciousness? and Why Are Channeling and Mediumship Dangerous?)

To the degree we are aware that we are dreaming and to the extent that our dreams are under our control—that is, lucid—we may be responsible for our actions and shaping our character by our choices.

However, the vast majority of dreams aren’t lucid. Most dreams are fantasies created by our sleeping brain from random memories. In certain ways we feel especially vulnerable when we are sleeping. But God never sleeps. He is always guarding and protecting us (Psalm 121:1-3).

Scripture nowhere indicates that God holds us responsible for what happens in our dreams. But our dreams should serve as a vivid reminder of how dependent we are on His love and grace.

  1. See the papers, “Sleep Inspires insight” in Nature magazine, January 2004 (Wagner, Gais, Haider, Verleger, and Born, from research at the University of Luebeck) and “REM, not incubation, improves creativity by priming associative networks” (Cai, Mednick, Harrison, Kanady, and Mednick). (The Mednick paper is at http://www.saramednick.com/htmls/pdfs/Cai_PNAS_2009) Back To Article
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Can a Person Who Continually Struggles With Impure Thoughts Be Genuinely Saved?

Being born again doesn’t keep us from having impure thoughts. First John 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (KJV). And in Romans 7:15-25, the apostle Paul describes his continuing struggle with sin.

The Bible teaches that all of us have fallen characteristics—a “dark side” that is inclined to sin and rebellion (Romans 7:23; Colossians 3:5)—and it tells us to resist our destructive inclinations and be obedient to Christ (Galatians 5:17-21; 6:8; Ephesians 1:2-6). In this life we will never escape the influence of our old nature, including evil and impure thoughts.

There probably isn’t a single Christian who isn’t ashamed and saddened at the thoughts that sometimes come into his or her mind. If Satan can get us obsessed with the evil thoughts that flash into our consciousness, he can rob us of our joy and keep us from being effective workers for the kingdom of God. This is what Satan tries to do as our adversary (Job 1:7-12), “slanderer,”1 and “accuser” (Revelation 12:10).

Although in this life we will never be completely freed from the taint of sin and impure thoughts, we can grow in our ability to control our response to them. Just because we have a thought doesn’t mean we need to dwell on it or, even worse, commit ourselves to a sinful action because of it. Our goal shouldn’t be to eliminate evil thoughts altogether but to recognize them when they appear and, instead of giving them influence, acknowledging them as sin and rejecting them (James 4:7).

By responding to our evil and impure thoughts with disciplined resistance, we can go a long way towards cleansing ourselves of habitual, willful sin. But we still live in a fallen world and will continue to struggle with our dark side. If we don’t acknowledge this unpleasant reality, we may become drawn into spiritual pride—perhaps the most dangerous sin of all.

  1. The name “devil” is from the Greek word diabolos, meaning slanderer, false accuser. Back To Article
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Why is it Important Not to Treat Sexual Intimacy Casually?

God intended sexual intimacy to mold a man and a woman physically, emotionally, and spiritually into “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Seeking a “one-flesh relationship” outside of a long-term, committed relationship is like a long-distance runner substituting performance-enhancing drugs for discipline and training or a graduate student hiring someone to write his/her master’s thesis.

Because we are not just animals, the human value of sexual experience is derived mostly from spiritual and emotional intimacy. Casual sexual experiences actually make it harder for people to yoke genuine intimacy with sexual arousal. This is why ordinary married people usually have a more deeply satisfying and long-lasting relationship than promiscuous celebrities who look spectacularly attractive and desirable.

We have fallen far from God’s plan for sexual intimacy. Contraception now allows the wholesale separation of sex from conception, birthing, parenting, and family bonding. Cultural changes have also identified pornography, promiscuity, and sexual relativism with sexual liberation. Consequently, we see unprecedented rates of divorce, family instability, and social problems.

Rather than experimenting with sexual experiences that scar and break hearts, Christians—whether single or married—should focus on establishing and nurturing genuine friendship and intimacy, the kind that will stand them in good stead for a lifetime.

 

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What Is a Godly Response to Domestic Abuse for an Abused Wife?

Domestic abuse is a one-sided relationship where a spouse regularly seeks to control and punish his or her partner. The most common sort of spousal abuse is that of the husband toward the wife. The abuse can take many forms: verbal, physical, psychological, sexual, and financial. These are the primary methods a man uses to dominate his spouse.

Regardless of the form of abuse, there are no easy answers for a wife whose husband regularly abuses her. Financial concerns, intimidating threats, personal doubts, and a husband’s ability to hide the abuse or make her feel responsibile (when she most certainly is not) are just some of the factors that leave hurting and scared wives feeling cornered with few, if any, options.

As trapped as a wife may feel, she is always free to choose the option of love. Sadly, however, too many have been taught that showing love means that a wife should passively tolerate her husband’s abuse. Love is misunderstood as getting along and not upsetting one’s husband. But a weak, fearful, compliant response usually enables her husband in his abusive patterns. Meek compliance on her part is not best for either of them. Nor does it serve the larger good of a godly marriage. Therefore, it’s not loving.

The Bible says that showing genuine love is to “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” ( Romans 12:9 NIV). In other words, a loving reaction is both compassionate and strong. Although her husband may not see it this way, an abused wife can show that she cares for her husband by sending the strong and consistent message that she will give him consequences for his abusive words and behavior.

A consequence is something that a wife decides to do. It’s not something that she tries to make her husband do. Consequences vary depending on the seriousness of the situation. For instance, a verbally abusive episode (although still serious) often calls for her to simply end the conversation after informing her husband that she won’t continue to talk with him as long as he remains controlling or disrespectful. Situations involving physical abuse may require calling the police and pressing charges. In other cases where there is a longstanding and oppressive pattern of emotional/verbal abuse, legal separation and even divorce are legitimate options to consider, but only as a last resort.

An abused wife shouldn’t expect the situation to turn around quickly. Many abusive husbands apologize and act remorseful, but a wife shouldn’t be misled. An abusive husband’s quick remorse is often just another ploy to regain control. Other men don’t apologize at all and resist admitting the harm they are causing. They continue to minimize their sin and put the blame on others. It frequently requires an abusive husband to undergo an extended time of his own personal suffering before he will come to his senses and begin the long and difficult process of understanding and owning the damage he’s caused. Therefore, a wife committed to loving her husband should be prepared to stand her ground for a long period of time while her husband learns necessary lessons from the consequences he is suffering for his sinful behavior.

An abused wife shouldn’t try to give consequences without help. Confronting her husband without a plan or physical protection can be a grave mistake. It will likely cause her husband to feel threatened. He is used to being in control and giving him negative consequences takes that control away. Therefore, a wife should prepare for the possibility that her husband could resort to physical intimidation and violence to regain control. She needs a plan that would help ensure her safety For example, having several friends present at a point of confrontation, having an escape plan or an alternate place for her and her children to go stay, notifying the police, obtaining a restraining order.

A wife has no assurances that his suffering the consequences will wake up her husband, end the abuse, or resolve their marital problems. She can, however, begin to love as Christ loved as she gradually begins to rest in the fact that God desires what is best for her. It may take a fairly long time to really believe this, but God is there to empower her to show love, to comfort her with love, and enliven her with a purpose for her own life no matter what happens ( Psalm 23:4 ). Her heart can begin to gain a growing confidence and peace that says, “I’m not totally powerless. I’m free to love. And although it may not work out between my husband and me, I am confident that it will work out between God and me.”

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Should Children Be Taught to Fight Back or Be Told to “Turn the Other Cheek”?

By word and example, parents should teach kids from an early age to treat others with respect, to be kind and fair, to exercise self-control, and to suppress the impulse to seek revenge.

1 Further, children should be taught how to cooperate with authority whenever possible to defuse situations. But it would be dangerous to teach a child that it is always wrong to protect himself and defend his interests.

Jesus understood children. We can be sure that when He took them in His arms and said that we all need to become like them to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:13-16), He wasn’t naive about how cruel they can be. The playground, in its own way, is a jungle as ruthless as most spheres of adult life.

It’s likely that a child trained to unconditionally defer to others will develop a crippling pattern of avoidance and an unhealthy fear of conflict. An immature mind can easily be shaped to think that it is “loving” to back away from confrontation—to be a coward when courage is called for. If we follow the “golden rule”—”So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12)—we won’t always allow aggressors to carry out their aggression successfully. If we do, we encourage behavior that brings harm.

Kids should be taught restraint—the ability to discern just how much force is needed, and to apply no more force than necessary. This may involve “turning the other cheek.” 2 But children are sometimes confronted with bullies who leave them no choice but to resist or be abused. Sometimes a bully will leave without a blow being thrown, merely at the recognition of a child’s unwillingness to be dominated. On other occasions, a fight may ensue that ends with little real damage to either child, but which will result in a major boost of status and self-esteem for the child who refused to be dominated.

Children aren’t miniature adults. Adults may have the maturity to understand the deep sayings of Jesus, though they struggle to live in accordance with them. We shouldn’t expect children to understand things beyond their spiritual and emotional development. To do so would likely provoke them to wrath (Ephesians 6:4), or to cause them to stumble (Luke 17:1-2). We need to protect them when it’s possible, but we also need to allow them to develop the tools they will need to understand and effectively respond to the challenges of adult life.

  1. Sometimes adults can successfully intervene and guide children through difficult situations, teaching valuable spiritual lessons in the process. Back To Article
  2. See the ATQ article, What Did Jesus Mean When He Said to Turn the Other Cheek (Matthew 5:39)? Back To Article
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