The value of a life

wheelchair athlete

The London 2012 Paralympic Games are now well and truly under way. For another nine days we can marvel at the skills and feats of endurance performed by a whole host of disabled athletes from around the world. The Paralympics are an example to us all of how barriers can be overcome and just how much can be achieved through determination, effort and hard work.

That determination was mirrored to me recently by a friend who was expecting her first child. During her pregnancy, tests showed that sadly all was not right. Her baby had a serious heart problem as well as other complications. The doctors suggested she should have her child aborted, but she and her husband were determined to give him the right to live, and refused to give in. Being a believer in Jesus, she knew that God had power to heal her child, but if He chose not to she also knew that He would give them the strength to cope. Many people were praying for them. It’s a few weeks now since she gave birth to her son. There was no trace of the serious heart problem, and after a day or two in the intensive care unit he was home and feeding properly, but will still need certain medical care. Who knows, because of his mother’s determination, he may become an athlete himself one day.

Disabled athletes have many ‘hurdles’ to overcome, but they keep going. Their endurance is an example to us all. Life isn’t easy for any of us, but through prayer and perseverance we too can make progress in our journey through life. Instead of giving up, we can look to our Creator. In the Bible, the apostle Paul wrote that “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength,” (Philippians 4:13). God is interested in each one of His children, and as we draw close to Him, we can be sure that He is there to strengthen and support us. As God once said through the prophet Isaiah: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Message in a bottle

Message in a bottle

Have you ever found a message in a bottle? You have more chance of finding one if you live or holiday near the North Atlantic Ocean. In the past 16 years Harold Hackett, who lives in Prince Edward Island on Canada’s eastern coastline, has thrown around 5,000 messages in a bottle into the Atlantic Ocean.

Harold dates each message, and asks the finder to respond. He uses plastic fruit juice bottles, only sending them out when there’s a westerly wind, which will carry the bottles around and across the Atlantic Ocean. His messages have been found in places as far apart as Iceland and the Bahamas, Russia and Florida, the Netherlands, the U.K. and Africa! So far he has received more than 3,100 replies, and those who respond often keep in contact. “I usually get about 150 Christmas cards, Christmas gifts, souvenirs,” Harold said in a BBC video. “I just love doing it the old way. The reason I won’t put my phone number on my letters is they’d all call me back, and I wouldn’t get any letters.”

Harold casts his bottles into the unknown, never knowing which message, if any, will be found and read. “I never dreamt I’d get that many back that quick,” he said, speaking about his thousands of replies.

Someone else who was an inveterate sender of letters which travelled far and wide – but not in bottles – was a 1st Century Jewish rabbi, Sha’ul of Tarsus, who had studied at the feet of Gamaliel, grandson of Rabbi Hillel. Better known as Paul, he wrote to growing churches that he and others had planted around present-day Greece and Turkey. A number of his letters were written while he was imprisoned for his faith. When he wrote them Paul never knew that those letters would still be being read, not just locally, but worldwide almost 2,000 years later. A product of his confinement, his letters to the Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians are some of the most beautiful and profound pieces of literature ever written. Today they form part of the world’s best selling book, the Bible.

From the New Testament we read that Paul was remarkably relaxed while under arrest, which was surprising when you consider that his life’s purpose was to travel far and wide telling people about Jesus and the power of His resurrection. Being confined to a prison cell or being under house arrest constrained both him and his message, and maybe there’s someone reading this today who knows how it feels to be constrained by circumstances, hemmed in by debt or illness, unemployment, addiction or divorce. Life can be hard. Paul was only at peace with his circumstances, because he knew that God, the Creator of the universe, was his strength. God knew what Paul was going through, and he cared. Although God was ultimately in control, He didn’t immediately set Paul free, but instead He was working for good in Paul’s situation. Without Paul’s imprisonment we wouldn’t have these amazing letters, which have been a source of strength and spiritual guidance for many millions of people. Maybe God is working for good in your situation, maybe He’s doing something that you don’t recognise right now that will ultimately turn out for your good. Whatever happens remember that God is near, only a prayer away, wanting to help, sustain and strengthen you, and maybe even set you free. Jesus’s brother Yacov once wrote, “You don’t have because you don’t ask God.” (James 4:2) Why not invite God into your situation like the writer of Psalm 118, who wrote, “In my distress I cried to the Lord, and He answered me and set me free. The Lord is with me; so I will not be afraid. What can mere people do to me? Yes, the Lord is for me; He is my helper. I will look in triumph on those who hate me. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people.” (Psalm 118:5-8)

No matter what you’re going through, God is still in control. He can, and will, see you through your hard times as you open up your life to Him. As Paul himself wrote, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Try praying

Manchester City stadium

“It was a miracle,” said Roberto Mancini, Manchester City’s manager. “God looked at our game and gave us a helping hand.” Manchester United fans probably wouldn’t agree, but for all who followed the afternoon’s football, it certainly was a nail biting two hours with plenty of twists and turns. The Premier League title was at stake, as was possible relegation for Bolton Wanderers or Queens Park Rangers. At the end of ninety minutes Manchester City were losing to Queens Park Rangers; the title almost belonged to Manchester United, who had just won their match. Manchester City needed two goals in five minutes of injury time to win their match and claim the title, a task that would be in anyone’s eyes a “miracle”. Yet Dzeko and Aguero did “the impossible”, scoring two goals before the whistle went.

According to David Clayton on Manchester City’s website, “Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero were the men who scored the winning goals and turned despair into delirium.” Even so it’s just possible that Gary Owen – a veteran City midfielder, sold to West Brom in 1979 – gave them a helping hand. Gary was interviewed on the BBC News Channel during City’s victory parade on Monday. Gary described how he left his seat in the Etihad Stadium during injury time to pray for victory in one of the executive suites. “I’m not a religious man,” he said, but he knew where to get help, and had faith to believe for the impossible. He went on to say that when Dzeko scored he didn’t let go of God, saying “I haven’t finished yet; we need another goal.” Anyone who knows the Bible, knows that God responds to that sort of faith. Powerful men from ancient times, such as Jacob and Daniel clung to God in desperate times, and found that God is indeed the God who answers prayer. As the author of the book of Hebrews writes:

“I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.” (Hebrews 11:32-34)

How about you? Do you pray, really pray … and believe? Why don’t you Try Praying?