When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your love, O LORD, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul….The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD. (Psalm 94:18,19; Job 1:21)
John Allen was an Irish farmer who owned a fine mare and one day the mare escaped.1 Without a horse, John and his son, James, had to plow their field themselves. The neighbors lament, “What bad luck!; now you will be poor.” John doesn’t overreact. Instead he quotes Job 1:21, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.” John chooses to thank Christ even when things go badly. He contents himself in the truth that Jesus does all things well, even when John can’t understand how.2
The next week, the mare returns, bringing a herd of wild horses with her. The farmer’s friends comment, “Your fortune is amazing! Now you’ve struck it rich.” John doesn’t over-react to this positive circumstance either and responds by faith, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.” John Allen is an unusual man. What makes him tick?
Later that same day, John’s son James was thrown from a horse. He broke his leg and shoulder while trying to tame one of the new wild stallions. Neighbors sympathize, “That’s terrible; now you’re ruined; how will you get your planting done?” John is perplexed, but not despairing and he affirms by faith, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.” This seems to be the way John Allen handles everything.
A short time later, military officials from King Brian draft all young men to join the army for battle. Only James Allen with his broken bones remained safely at home with his father. His friends celebrate, “How glad we are for you!” John rejoices, but moderates his enthusiasm saying, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.”
Circumstances changed for John Allen four times in this short story and they changed for him a thousand times between his birth and death. But Allen chooses and decides to remember that King Jesus is in command and in control of all his days, both events that seem bad and events that seem good. He waits on the Lord by faith and is able to see God turn around some unhappy things to his advantage. John Allen can say with the Psalmist, “I trust in you, O LORD; You are my God; My times are in your hands.”3 I want to learn this habit of yielding to Christ more consistently. Don’t you feel the same way?
Carl Jung (1875–1961) was a psychiatrist whose father was a poor rural pastor in the Swiss Reformed Church. While I don’t agree with many of Jung’s statements about religion, this comment on joy is consistent with Bible teaching: “Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is best to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.”
Jung’s statement reminds me how Abraham, Moses, David, and other Old and New Testament believers responded to many hardships in their lives. They trusted that Jesus will ultimately work all things for good, but they didn’t always see things turn around in their lifetimes. They banked on Christ for the unknowable and uncontrollable and Jesus gave them peace and freedom in the middle of pleasant and unpleasant situations. Christ will do the same for us as we trust Him.
Most times we cannot change what happens to us; we can only alter our attitude. We can be like John Allen and surrender to what the Lord sends us, rather than foolishly fighting against God’s will.4 An accepting attitude contributes to calmness of mind, while refusing to yield to Christ’s providence breeds discontentment and disappointment. The well known Serenity Prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) expresses this attitude of trust:
Heavenly Father, grant me your courage to change the things I can;
your serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
and your wisdom to know the difference.
Help me to live one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking this sinful world as it is, not as it ought to be;
Trusting that Jesus will make all things right if I surrender to His will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him forever in the next world.
In Christ’s name I ask it. Amen.5
The fact is, we can never know how our life will unfold, but we can rejoice that all the days ordained for us were written in Jesus’ book before we were even born.6 Remembering this helps me to let go in the right way and to rejoice in the Lord always, trusting Him to do all things well.
Go in peace, beloved. Walk with King Jesus today and be a blessing to others!
Notes: 1 I have adapted this story from multiple versions. 2 See Mark 7:37 NKJ. 3 Psalm 31:14,15 4 In Acts 26:14, Christ says to Saul of Tarsus, “You are hurting yourself by kicking against the goads.” (NET) or “It is useless for you to fight against my will.” (NLT) 5 Many versions of this prayer exist. Versions are used by Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery programs. Some scholars believe that the prayer precedes Niebuhr. 6 See Psalm 139:16.