I sat amazed and anxious. My heart was caught up in fear and celebration at the same time.
My wife and I could see clearly the shape of a head, as we looked at the 20 week ultrasound; the first images of our first child. We saw movement, we heard the heartbeat. But my heartbeat was even louder in my chest. Did he have all his fingers and toes? Did his heart have all the right parts? Was he healthy? I had never felt more vulnerable and helpless. I had absolutely zero control over the health of my son. Before he would ever be held in my arms, he would be formed by God’s hands. And by God’s grace, he was healthy. We avoided the hurt that so many people have to face.
But for some, the waves of fear can often time give way to storms of sorrow and heartbreak. Just recently a car accident south of town left two families without mothers and children. Even more recently we heard the news that another young family must move forward without their father. Another sermon I listened to depicted the struggle of a family who was preparing to bury their daughter, who was dying from cancer, at eight years old. Sin hurts. The fall was real. Our hope is that one day, when Christ comes back he will bring us fully into his presence, into a place where sin and death are locked away at the triumph of the Lamb. But until then, we experience hurt, as we groan with creation, waiting for our future glory (Rom 8:23).
As I processed all of these events in the past few weeks I began to ask myself questions. What if it’s my wife who is hit and killed in the crash? What if it is my son whose body is destroyed by cancer? As helpless as I felt at my son’s ultrasound, it was not just then that I am helpless, I am still helpless. I can take care of my family. I can protect them and serve them. But I do not sustain the life of my family: Jesus does. The same God who calmed the storm is the same God who dashed Paul’s ship against the reef. How will I respond when those tragedies come? Who will I be? How will I view God? Will I worship? These are all questions that I need to ask myself as I prepare for the storms that life this side of glory will have to endure. God has blessed me with a life of limited sorrow thus far. But I want to prepare for the storm by treasuring a full hope.
Here are four things that I want to remind myself of as I walk through the highs and lows of this world:
I need the Bible:
I’ve said it before, the older I get the more I realize my need for scripture. I want to bleed scripture. I remember when Sarah and I found out she was pregnant with Owen, not even two months into our marriage. It was a shock, and something that produced waves of joy, but also storms of fear, uncertainty and worry. But I remember coming home from church one day, sitting on the couch with my wife, and crying over Psalm 127:3-5: “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward…Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” Here it was, the very words of the Lord, speaking to our uncertainty with the promise of reward and blessing.
In times of heartache we might need to turn to Psalm 23. We might need to hear the words of Jesus from the gospels. We may need to come under the sweeping love of God in Romans 8. Or even sometimes we need to read the hard pressing words of Habakkuk 2:4, where in light of terror and trial, “the righteous shall live by his faith,” a faith that God will deliver, grow, and accomplish his will in us while we suffer.
Very few people can live a full life here on the earth without encountering times where comfort is needed. It is for those moments I want to condition my heart to seek counsel from the Lord. To take comfort in the richness of his revealed word to us.
I need Perspective:
Paul always preached perspective. He experienced great trials: beatings, imprisonment, shipwrecks, snake bites, loneness, hardship, loss and so much more. Yet in all of Paul’s writing, he maintains a perspective which keeps him grounded: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18). In the book of Philippians, Paul calls all things loss for the surpassing joy of knowing Christ, attaining “the resurrection from the dead” (3:11). A few verses later Paul encourages us once more, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior…who will transform our body to be like his glorious body, but the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
Eighty years is a drop in the bucket compared to eternity. That doesn’t mean that tragedies won’t happen, and pain won’t be present, but it means we have a hope greater than this momentary affliction. We should hate sin. We should hate all the death, pain and brokenness that sin brings. But as we live in the present, we are fueled by the grace of our future. One day there will be no death, no disease, no catastrophes, that day will come when we see Jesus face to face. This causes us to love Jesus even more, not only for being the one who will remove these things, but for being the one who paid the price of sin so that we can spend a beautiful eternity with him. This world is fading, the next is eternal. Live in that hope.
I need the Church:
The author of Hebrews warns us not to neglect meeting together, “as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25). This encouragement happens as we learn about God together, but also as we live life together. We encourage one another through the gospel. The church is a place where your brothers and sisters in Christ administer the gospel to you, and you get the joy of administering it to them. Oftentimes women who are pregnant don’t really announce it until after the first trimester, just in case they have a miscarriage. In the church the opposite should be true, we should not want our wounded and hurting brothers and sisters to hide their pain, but to bring it to us so that we may encourage and support them through it.
The church is an assembly of people who live in a fallen, hurting world. People other than you have suffered in your church, and God has given them that suffering so that they may encourage you in yours (and vice a versa). In 2 Corinthians 1:4, Paul says that God “comforts us in our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” In 1 Peter 4:10, Peter says the church has “received a gift, use it to serve on another, as stewards of God’s varied grace.” Sometimes the church will pray for you, sometimes they will preach to you, sometimes they will cry with you. But the church will care for you with all the gifts and talents that Christ has given the church. Learn to love the church. Learn to be the church. This is a great hope.
I need Jesus:
Most importantly, I need Jesus. The inner worship of my heart will be my guide in the suffering. If Jesus is big in my heart, my suffering, in all its reality, will be cared for with the grace and power of Christ. When Jesus sits on his throne, all things are under his control. Nothing comes to pass which God has not purposed to pass. Paul recognized this in 2 Corinthians 1. He says that he felt like he had received the sentence of death, but it was God who had brought him into that circumstance, “so to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God, who raises the dead.”
James joins in and says that there is joy in our suffering and trials (James 1:2). Paul says that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love him (Rom 8:28). Joseph even saw that it was God who ultimately sold him into slavery and brought him to Egypt (Gen 45:7). Because God is in control, I want to cling to Jesus with all my might. In him I have a hope and a comfort. In him is the strength that I need to submit myself to God’s mighty hand. In him is my ability to trust my soul, and my life to the great God who works all things for our good. In him are the words I can say to myself, and to those around me. In Christ alone my hope is found. This is true in my salvation, and in my daily life.
Peter offers a great concluding hope for those who are in the storms, and for those who are still preparing:
“And 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. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:10-11)