January 11 – The Crucible of Crisis – A crisis prayer God didn’t forget

Read Isaiah 49:15Luke 12:6-7

God used two things to make me passionate about a ministry in crisis response. The first was studying crisis throughout the pages of Scripture, which has provided most of the source material for these devotionals. The second was an experience I had in the Philippines, which I’ll recount here.

The story actually begins in Africa. In November 2013, I was in Bangui, Central African Republic, trying to recover from being sick. Too weak to do anything else, I listened to BBC radio. A special came on about Tacloban in the Philippines – a name which was new to me. Weeks before the city had taken a direct hit from Super Typhoon Yolanda and people were telling their stories, each one ending in tears. I was moved and remember praying something like, “Lord, please help these people! Bring eternal good out of the devastation! Use it to draw people to You.”

Six weeks later I was back in the USA working on helping war-torn CAR with food and seed. I confess my prayers for Tacloban were far from my mind…but not from God’s.

Fast-forward exactly one year later. I had accepted the invitation of a missionary to visit their work in the Philippines and see what God was doing. Landing in Cebu City, that first night I was heavily jetlagged so I flipped on the TV. A one-year-anniversary documentary on Super Typhoon Yolanda was playing. It was sounding very familiar; I then remembered the BBC story I had heard on the radio the year before in Africa.

Traveling throughout Samar Island we saw a land still heavily scored and pocked by the typhoon’s strength, but the contrasting beauty of new life, new believers, and new church plants was stunning. I sat worshipping in a church plant, which didn’t exist a year before. As they sang, it all came back to me. I remembered my prayer from a year before and realized I was sitting in God’s answer! These were the people for whom I had prayed!

Church planter with believers at the new church in Tacloban

Church planter with believers at new church plant in Tacloban, Philippines

I had forgotten – but God had not. My prayer, slowly swallowed up by time and the demands of life, sprouted and grew in the soil of God’s faithfulness. He joys in answering the prayers of His children.

THOUGHT TO PONDER: Has God ever answered a prayer that you forgot you had prayed?

Barb Wooler

Let’s stay in touch! Find me on Facebook (Barb Wooler) and my handle on Twitter is EncompassCRISIS.

Find out about Encompass’ new Crisis Response Network  (4 min video).

January 10 – The Crucible of Crisis – The strategic place of prayer in crisis

Read: Psalm 22:5-21Matthew 26:39James 5:13

Whatever you may think of the movie “The Crucifixion of the Christ” (Mel Gibson),  I think the scene at the foot of the cross got a lot right. Looking down from the cross, Jesus sees a vile-looking “humanoid” (Satan) circling through the crowd. The creature’s sneering grin grows deeper as each breath of the Savior becomes more labored. Satan’s ancient plan will soon be realized.

Poetic license? Not so fast. But to find the source text one must leave the gospels and go to the Psalms of David. Psalm 22, the prophetic account of the crucifixion, reads: a band of evil men has encircled me.…”

"a band of evil men has encircled me..."

“a band of evil men has encircled me…”

“Bulls surround me…roaring lions open their mouths wide against me…dogs have surrounded me.…” Horrific. Evil.

The psalm continues, recounting the future prayers of the dying Lamb of God from the cross, “But you, O Lord, be not far off; O my Strength, come quickly to help me. Deliver my life from the sword…Rescue me from the mouth of the lions….”

Surely Heaven and Hell met at the cross! In a lesser but very real way the same is true during any crisis. Crisis brings people to their most vulnerable; and that’s where Heaven and Hell rush in but for completely opposite purposes.

Our only weapon to wield, as demonstrated here by Jesus, is prayer which penetrates the veil, touching the heart of the Father and breaking the resolve of the evil one. Prayer – simple, desperate and earnest. Only prayer.

[PAUL] Three times Paul prayed for God to remove his thorn in the flesh.

[JOSEPH] The Bible records none of Joseph’s prison prayers except those requesting wisdom to interpret dreams, but we know Joseph prayed constantly to be delivered from prison.

[JOB] Job sweetly yielded to God’s will, offering up almost super-human prayers to Him who “gives and takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”

James agrees, writing simply, “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray…”

All four would affirm that their prayers were answered, though the answers looked different from their requests:

  • Jesus still was made sin, but rose in victory, opening the way between God and man.
  • Paul was granted sufficient grace…but not healing.
  • For years God’s answer to Joseph was not release from prison but favor in the eyes of those in authority over him.
  • Job was vindicated before his “comforters,” but his losses were real.

THOUGHT TO PONDER: Is a prayer really answered if the answer looks different from the request?

Barb Wooler

What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment.

January 9 – The uncomfortable truth about trouble: God is complicit!

Read: Genesis 37:26-28 & Genesis 45:4-5Job 2:1-8II Corinthians 12:7-10I Cor. 2:7-8

This is our second day of venturing out into uncomfortable waters concerning the connection between God and trouble. Yesterday we contemplated God’s sovereign control over everything. Today’s truth is perhaps even more uncomfortable! It is that – there’s no escaping it – God is complicit in our trouble.

The best place to start is with the story of Job, the quintessential story of faith under fire. Was Satan free to strike Job at will? No, Satan had to ask permission from God, and God set boundaries on Satan’s power to harm.


“You intended it to harm me, but God intended it for good…the saving of many lives”












It was Joseph’s brothers who betrayed him. THEY sold him as a slave to merchants traveling to Egypt. But many years later, when his brothers came to the horrifying realization that Pharaoh’s official was none other than their little brother Joseph, Joseph said an amazing thing to them:
“And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” (Genesis 45:5)

Years later he would reaffirm this conclusion to his brothers: “Don’t be afraid. You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish…the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:19-20)

God entrusted Paul with direct revelation and knowledge unlike any other man outside of Jesus. So to keep him from becoming proud, God gave him a “thorn in the flesh,” also called in the same verse “a messenger of Satan.” (II Corinthians 12:7)

And the most beautiful gift ever given, our salvation, which brings us richness and joy every day, is the result of the most horrific suffering and vile crime ever committed, when Satan struck Jesus on the cross. (I Corinthians 2:7-8)

While there are aspects of the mystery not to be grasped this side of Heaven, what is abundantly clear is that the forces of Heaven (good) and Hell (evil) come together in pain. Trouble is where these opposite forces meet to work for entirely opposite ends: God to lift, bless and strengthen; Satan to bring down, kill and destroy.

Who wins? That, my friends, depends on us. Better or bitter. Which will it be?

THOUGHT TO PONDER: Does knowing that God and Satan meet together in trouble influence how we view it? How?

Barb Wooler

What do you think? Please leave a comment!

January 8 – The Crucible of Crisis – The uncomfortable truth about trouble: God could stop it!

Read Ephesians 1:11

For the next two days we venture out into waters that will feel choppy and uncomfortable as concerns the connection between God and trouble.

One month after 9/11, Christian apologist John Piper wrote an article entitled, “Why I Do Not Say, ‘God Did Not Cause the Calamity but He Can Use It for Good.’” In it he establishes a difficult but biblically irrefutable truth: that God chose not to prevent 9/11. Indeed, that on that day – and every other – God was working “all things after the counsel of his will.” (Eph. 1:11)

Among the “all things” under God’s sovereignty are the:

“From the smallest thing to the greatest thing, good and evil, happy and sad, pagan and Christian, pain and pleasure – God governs them all for his wise and just and good purposes (Isaiah 46:10).

“Lest we miss the point, the Bible speaks most clearly to this in the most painful situations. Amos asks, in time of disaster, “If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?” (Amos 3:6). After losing all ten of his children in the collapse of his son’s house, Job says, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). After being covered with boils he says, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10).

sovereign“IT IS A MYSTERY, INDEED, how God governs all events in the universe without sinning, without removing responsibility from man, and with compassionate outcomes!”

THOUGHT TO PONDER: Does the biblical truth that God is sovereign over all inspire confidence or fear – or both? Why?

Barb Wooler

What do you think? Let us know by leaving a comment!

January 7 – The Crucible of Crisis – All that we don’t know about suffering

Read: John 16:33James 1:2,12I Peter 1:6-9I Peter 4:12Hebrews 12:5-13

When questioned about the existence of God, Albert Einstein sometimes answered: Man knows perhaps 2% of all there is to know. That leaves 98% we do not know. Isn’t there room in that 98% for God?

In between the things we know are vast expanses of things we do not know. Navigating blindly through these voids most certainly leads to wrong conclusions, especially when those conclusions have to do with trouble in our lives.

Our loving Heavenly Father has not left us to navigate blindly through these oceans of unknowns. He has given us the necessary instrumentation – two essential guides – to lead us through space, time and trouble so we can avoid getting broken and shipwrecked on rocky cliffs of doubt.

guidesGUIDE #1
The first divine guide is truth. While He hasn’t revealed every truth that can be known, what truth He has revealed is our solid, trust-worthy guide through life’s hazards.

Truths we know about trouble… It is:

  • EXPECTED – Jesus guaranteed we’d have trouble (John 16:33), so why be surprised at our suffering “as though something strange were happening to [us]”? (I Peter 4:12)
  • PURPOSEFUL – Peter said trials purify and strengthen faith. (I Peter 1:5)
  • REASSURING – Trouble to correct us when we err proves we belong to Him. (Hebrews 12:5-13)
  • GOOD – Paul said God redeems good out of trouble. (Romans 8:28)
    Trusting in God and His truth keep us steadfast in the storms of life.

    Trusting in God and His word will keep us steadfast in the storms of life.

The second divine guide is faith. Faith is the great bridger-of-gaps, the connector-of-dots between the truths we know.

Simply put, truth + faith = confidence during trouble.

QUESTION TO PONDER: Can you add other truths or “guides” to the list above?

Barb Wooler

January 6 – Crucible of Crisis – The “why” and “what” behind suffering

Read: Romans 8:28Job 1:6-8

The WHYs in life are tricky, and this is never truer than when it comes to WHY God allows a trial.

Maybe it’s to move someone geographically – “Their house burned down because God wants them to move to Texas near their son.”

Or is it to change someone’s heart? – “God is teaching that person not to be arrogant.”

Maybe it’s to change someone’s mind? – “He got fired so he’ll stop refusing God’s call to ministry.”

whyWhen it comes to the WHYs behind trials and crises, filling in the ocean-wide gaps between our knowledge and God’s is sketchy at best and dangerous at worst. Too often we get it all wrong, which can just make it harder for the person in crisis.

Of course, proof text Numero Uno of this is Job’s experience. Job’s comforters thought for sure they knew why he was suffering so: it was because of secret sin in his life. But the truth was just the opposite, wasn’t it? Indeed, when God looked over the earth for the most upright man of all, His eyes settled on Job! God was confident Job’s faith would withstand the worst Satan could throw at him.  Job’s comforters’ speculation led them to a conclusion exactly opposite from the truth.

Sometimes a trial touches us, but the real target is someone else. For example: An unsaved nurse needs to meet you, so you land in the hospital. Or your insurance man is struggling with suicidal thoughts and needs hope; of course the natural connection between you and your insurance man is a claim. Ouch!

If there’s any validity to the theory of “Six Degrees of Separation” – the belief that every person on the planet is six or less people away from all others – that leaves a great possibility of someone being impacted by a crisis primarily intended for someone else.

Though the WHYs of trouble are often too sketchy for conjecture, we can at least be confident about the most important thing: the WHAT of hardship – that God is wringing every possible ounce of good out of trails touching those who love Him.

THOUGHT TO PONDER: Can you trust your loving Heavenly Father to bring good out of hardship?

Barb Wooler

What do you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Find out about Encompass’ new Crisis Response Network  (4 min video).

January 5 – Crucible of Crisis – God uses crisis to move people – Changing minds

Read: Jonah 1 & Jonah 3:1-3

No discussion of God using crisis to move people is complete without dealing with the uncomfortable subject of how He uses crisis to change rebellious minds. Sadly, there are way too many Bible examples from which to draw! Think Pharaoh, the Israelites in the desert, the Israelites in exile….

But the best example of God using crisis to change minds is this one.

God’s heart was broken because of the wickedness of the people of Mosul (Iraq), the modern name for Nineveh. God called the prophet Jonah of Galilee to go preach to the Ninevites, perhaps they would repent and be spared God’s judgment!

What a privilege, to be chosen from among all people to be God’s envoy! But we all know that’s not how Jonah saw it. From Galilee, an obedient Jonah would go north and east to Nineveh, but instead a disobedient Jonah went south and west.

Oh, what misery he could have been spared if only….

But Jonah’s mind was made up. Running to Joppa, he boards a ship going anywhere but Nineveh. In exhaustion he falls asleep in the bottom of the vessel – running from God is hard work! We all know the story – big storm, thrown into the sea, God sends a big fish, Jonah swallowed alive….

How miserable it must have been in the belly of that fish! Stench. Half-eaten fish floating. Seaweed tangling. Ears paining in the deep. Fear…think of it. It had to be terrifying!

Still, it took three whole days of awfulness – of crisis – for Jonah to change his mind. Finally Jonah prayed: “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you…I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good.”

jonah2The fish vomited Jonah onto land, and the bleached, smelly prophet wobbled toward Nineveh, shakily at first, but strength growing with each step of obedience. The Ninevites repent. God has “compassion on the Ninevites and did not bring the destruction he had threatened.” (Jonah 3:10)

QUESTION TO PONDER: Can you think of a time in your life when you suffered because you were slow to obey God’s leading?

Barb Wooler

January 4 – God uses crisis to move people – Changing hearts

Read: Acts 9:15-16Acts 14:22II Cor. 11:23-29

Saul of Tarsus. The best of the best. Sincere. Zealous. Smart. Highly educated. Passionate in his zeal for God. And dead wrong.

Suffering is central to Saul’s story. It starts with him inflicting suffering on the church to destroy it, which ironically, God used to spread the church. Then after two years, God’s purposes in the persecution having been accomplished, the tables turn and now Saul was on the receiving end of the suffering. But let’s go back to the beginning of the story.

On the road to Damascus, Saul is traveling with documents authorizing him to capture, imprison, and even kill followers of Jesus. Suddenly, a bright light flashes from heaven and strikes him down. A voice from heaven says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”  It is the voice of Jesus! (Jesus’ words answering forever the question, “Where is Jesus in my pain?” – a subject for another day.)

Now blind, Saul’s posse guides him to the home Jesus had indicated, and for three days he sits in darkness, in stunned silence and awe, wondering how he could have been so wrong! At the end of those three painful days, Paul emerges a man with a completely changed heart.

As it turns out, Saul – now going by his Greek name Paul – is God’s chosen means to spread the church. Initially, this happens unintentionally, on his part anyway, when he persecutes the church. But after his conversion the persecutor becomes the persecuted, and he suffers as few others in all of church history. All to take the gospel to the Gentiles.

God said of Saul, “[He] is my chosen instrument…I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” This prophecy proves trues, and who can read without emotion Paul’s long litany of suffering in II Corinthians 11:23-29?

Paul's most joyful epistle, Philippians, was written from a jail cell.

Paul’s most joyful epistle, Philippians, was written from a jail cell.

It was not out of vindictiveness that God allowed Paul to suffer; it’s just what was required in order for Paul’s mission to be completed. One time when Paul had reached his limit, God lovingly appears to Paul in a dream to strengthen him. “Do not be afraid [Paul]” God said, “I am with you and no one is going to attack and harm you….” (Acts 18: 9-10)

Paul spoke from deep experience when he wrote, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

QUESTION TO PONDER: Can God depend on me to suffer for Him?

Barb Wooler

What do you think? Please feel free to leave a comment below.

January 3 – God uses crisis to move people – Geographically

READ: Genesis 45:5Genesis 46:1-4Acts 8:1

My thoughts on the subject of crisis have evolved a lot since a year ago, when I was first approached by Encompass World Partners about developing a Crisis Response ministry. To be honest, at that time I wasn’t sure crisis ministry was a good match for me. But all that changed when I looked at the role of crisis in the Bible, and I came to a conclusion that left me wildly passionate about serving in crisis.

The crucible of trial awakens"What conclusion did I reach? I saw that God uses crisis to move people, to change people’s hearts, minds and even their geography. The crucible of trial awakens, it shakes us from life’s patterns and routines so that we are listening differently; it readies our mind to see afresh.

But…geography? Really? Yes, even geography. Consider these well-known examples.

When God wanted Israel to go into Egypt where they would grow into a great nation, how did He move them there? He sent a severe famine (crisis) and as food grew scarce, the patriarch Jacob had no choice but to seek provisions in the only land that still had food: Egypt.

His sons were welcomed by the “Egyptian” official, returning home with bulging grain sacks.  Turns out that this generous official in Pharaoh’s court was none other than Joseph, their brother!

Sooo…how did brother Joseph end up in Egypt? It was by his brothers’ wicked betrayal (crisis) years before, when they treacherously sold him to traveling merchants “happening by” on their way to Egypt.

Another geographic migration brought on by crisis was 430 years later, when God used ten horrific plagues (crisis) to bring Israel, now a vast nation, out of Egypt.

After Pentecost the church was exploding; Jerusalem was Christianity-Central. Believers were living and fellowshipping together and their numbers grew daily as they anxiously awaited Jesus’ return.

But weren’t they forgetting something?  Oh, yeah, the Great Commission. Their town, Jerusalem, was only Phase I! So how would God move the church into Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth? Through persecution (crisis) ignited by Stephen’s martyrdom (crisis).

It is clear throughout history that God uses crises – like famine, betrayal, plagues, persecution – to move people into His good and perfect purposes.

THOUGHT TO PONDER: Has God ever used a crisis or hardship to move you geographically?

Barb Wooler

What do you think? Please leave a comment.

January 2 – The Crucible of Crisis

Read: Psalm 119:67 & James 1:2-4

Who in their right minds would prefer hard times to easy? Ask 100 people which they prefer and 100 would answer the same: give me the GOOD TIMES!

So how does one account for two very strange statements I heard recently? At a small group a woman started her word of praise to God by saying, “I thank God for my stroke.” Then in May, while in Nepal assisting earthquake victims, I heard a man say, “I thank God for the earthquake.”

Crazy, right? But consider the fuller context of both.

In the case of the woman, she was thankful for her stroke because it brought her back to the Lord and also was healing her relationship with her estranged son. Though walking is now a bit of a challenge for her body, in a figurative sense, her spirit has a new spring in its step!


“I thank God for the earthquake…”

The man in Nepal is a pastor, and he has good reason to thank God for the April 25th 7.8-magnitude earthquake. Though his life has been very hard since that fateful day, he rejoices because the earthquake has brought his neighbors to their church, seeking a safe place to sleep. The close contact between believers and unbelievers has resulted in eight people trusting Christ. They were planning the baptism service for the following week. (Link to video below.)

Makes one wonder if, as Paul and Silas left Philippi, they, too, were thanking God for the earthquake, the fruit of which was a newly saved jailer and his newly-believing family!

These cases are not anomalies. You probably know people like a gal I know, whose prickly and, at times, difficult temperament has been completely transformed since her cancer diagnosis! Today she is pleasant and overwhelmed with gratitude to all the friends she has discovered she has. She never knew such joy B.C. (before cancer).

So, there’s obviously another side of suffering, a side we could call an “inconvenient truth.” This truth is hinted at by the Apostle James in his bizarre statement, “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trails of many kinds…” (James 1:2)

For the next couple of weeks these devotionals will be on the function of “things-going-badly” in our lives. We may reach some surprising conclusions about crises, ourselves, the human experience, and yes, even about God.

Barb Wooler

What do you think? Start the conversation by leaving a comment!

Video of Encompass’s Crisis Response project in Nepal (2.5 min)