Yesterday I woke up with a Scripture verse on my mind. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen very often but when it does, it's just a neat experience. The verse that came to mind was Philippians 1:21 - For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. I hadn't been reading that passage or meditating on that verse so I accepted it as something God wanted me to start meditating on, thinking about and I did that.
Today I realized that too often I internalize that verse as: For to me, to live is gain and to die is nothing but pain. Don't get me wrong: dying is painful and not something I (or anyone I know) wants to do any time soon.
But hanging onto life here and now should not be our raison d'etre; Christ should be our reason for existence and, if He is, then even though death is still a specter to be dealt with at some time or other, it's not the worst thing that can happen to us. By that I mean that death and sickness, as horrible as they can be, are - in God's providence - the doorway to life greater than anything we've ever experienced here on earth.
So... can God use sickness and death?
I know of a woman named Sandy. I've never met her but I will someday. She died of an aggressive form of breast cancer when she was a young woman with a small child. Her testimony of faith, hope, and strength during that awful time led to the conversion of her Jewish oncologist, Jack Sternberg. His wife, Marilyn, also became a believer. And together they, their kids, and grandkids have ministered and continue to minister to many.
I know of a woman named Joni. Many people have heard Joni's testimony, read her books, seen her drawings, and/or heard her singing. She has been a paraplegic for decades. When she was just starting her journey with this handicap, she believed that God could and would heal her. She and a group of fellow believers prayed fervently for her to be healed but it didn't happen. Is it possible that God allows suffering because He has a reason for it? Because He can use it for our good and to His glory? I think Joni and her husband, Ken, would say "yes". Has her life been easy? Far from it. But through her disability, thousands have been blessed.
I know of a preacher whose wife was ill with cancer. Three different people assured this man that God had revealed to them that his wife would be healed. The preacher believed this as well. But his wife's condition got worse instead of better. One day the pastor was on his face, praying when suddenly he felt the Lord was asking him: if I don't heal your wife, will you still love Me and follow Me? The man wrestled with this for a while but finally told the Lord that He would still love Him and follow Him. The Lord then impressed these words on the man's heart: it takes more faith to believe in Me when I don't heal, than when I do.
I've never met a girl named Hannah, although I went by the hospice where she spent her last few weeks in order to drop off something. She also exhibited a resolute faith, actually a remarkable faith for a 17 year-old who was dying of a brain tumor. Out of her death has come an entire ministry to families who have lost children, a ministry called While We're Waiting. The blogs from Hannah's mom, Jill Sullivan, never fail to encourage me and I know their weekend retreats for grieving parents have blessed many.
I do have a dear friend, Angie, who has an enduring faith and I shamelessly draw strength from my visits with her and from her blogs. She always has something funny to say, something generous to share (time, hospitality, encouragement) and yet she is totally dependent on a caregiver and an oxygen mask for her daily existence. No... that's wrong. She is totally dependent on Christ who is, truly, her raison d'etre and I know personally that she is a blessing to many.
I could go on and on but I think you get the picture. Does God love and care about us? Yes, most definitely. Does He invite us to bring our pains and problems to Him? Yes, most definitely.
But even more important than that, He invites us to enter His heart, to share His joys and His heartaches, to intercede using His prayer list before we turn to our own. (Or, even better, draw our prayer list from His list instead of trying to impose ours on Him).
Where is His heart today?
I know God cares about the arthritis pain I have frequently. I don't doubt that He understands and cares nor do I doubt that He can heal me.
But I don't think my creaking knees top His list... :) Seriously. When I get on my face and ask Him what does top His list, what is dear to His heart, invariably... always... without fail... He brings to mind the suffering church.
|REfugee tents that have Christ is the Light of the World written on them.|
People in Nigeria who, even though their church was attacked one week, go back to church the next week.
People who, to paraphrase the words of Hebrews 11, meet in caves and holes in the ground, people who would rather be tortured than give up their faith, people who have seen the promises of God from afar but who have died without receiving all that God has promised, people of whom God Himself has said the world is not worthy to have them. And so He takes them Home and death becomes tremendous gain for them.
For me, to live is ________________?
And to die is _________________?
The people I have mentioned above have answered that question correctly. May I do the same.
To paraphrase the words of Paul: to live is Christ. Nothing more, nothing less. And to die is gain. Nothing more, nothing less.