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Joseph Scriven was born in September 1819 to wealthy Irish parents. He received the best education money could afford. More importantly, he received a Christian upbringing and grew into a godly young man, well-respected in his community.

As a young man, he fell in love with a young woman with whom he planned to spend the rest of his life. The day before their wedding, he went to visit his fiancée at her house. She came out to meet him on horseback and the two converged at a bridge on opposite sides of a raging river. As she crossed the bridge to meet him, she fell from her horse into the water below and he watched in horror, unable to do anything, as she drowned.

Wrestling with grief, Joseph took to travelling the world and eventually settled in Canada. Once more, he became known as a God-honouring member of the community, with a particular burden to practically minister to widows and the vulnerable.

The story is told that a wealthy man looking to hire someone to cut wood once saw Joseph in the street, carrying a pile of wood and a sawhorse. When he suggested to a colleague that he would hire Joseph, his colleague replied, “That’s Joseph Scriven. He wouldn’t cut wood for you because you can afford to hire him. He only cuts wood for those who don’t have money enough to pay.”

After a number of years in Canada, Joseph met and fell in love with another young woman. The two were engaged to be married. Just weeks before the wedding, she contracted pneumonia and died. He never married after that.

One day, Joseph fell ill. A friend visited him at home and, at his bedside, found a poem that he had written. Joseph explained that he had penned the poem to encourage his mother in Ireland when he learned that she had fallen ill. He never intended for it to be seen by anyone but his mother. Happily for generations of Christians, the friend found the poem, which was later set to music to become a beloved hymn:

What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear;
what a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer.
Oh, what peace we often forfeit!
oh, what needless pain we bear!
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.

Peter knew of this comforting power of prayer. In concluding exhortations to his suffering friends in Asia Minor, he wrote, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6–7). He encouraged them that “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (v. 10). He did not want his readers to forfeit the strength and encouragement available in Christ because they would not cast their anxieties on him in prayer.

Prayer is not, of course, a magic bullet for the downcast soul. Joseph drowned at the age of 66 in a time of severe depression. Friends had taken to sitting at his house to watch and care for him. One morning, Joseph was sleeping and a friend, who had spent the night watching him, withdrew to another room to wait until he was relieved by another friend. When he went back into the room a little later to check on Joseph, he found the room empty. A frantic search ensued and, a little later in the day, Joseph’s lifeless body was found floating in a nearby body of water. He was buried alongside his second fiancée. It was never determined whether he died by suicide or accident, but he was clearly in a bout of depression the day he died.

Affliction is never easy to navigate. There is no promise that a quick prayer directed toward God will immediately ease the burden and lift the spirits. But there is the promise, given by the Holy Spirit himself, that Christ deeply cares for his burdened people. When it seems like nobody cares, Jesus cares.

As you reflect on 1 Peter 5:6–11 today, be encouraged that Jesus cares. As you face affliction and anxiety, cast your cares upon Christ, confident that he cares for you. Be encouraged with the encouragement that Joseph offered his dear mother:

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never stay discouraged:
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness:
Take it to the Lord in prayer.