For our fourth wedding anniversary Vanessa and I took a trip to the Central Coast of California. I’ll never forget how beautiful the cypress trees were that lined the famed 17-Mile Drive at Pebble Beach. I learned that, proportionate to their size, cypress trees have some of the deepest root systems of any tree. Their constant coastal winds cause their roots to sink deep into the soil becoming nearly immovable. They have a effortless way about them. You might even say they seem relaxed even amidst the constant battering of the elements. They actually thrive on account of their difficult surroundings.
This is, of course, a microcosm of the Christian life. Harsh winds can feel constant, yet through it all our dependence upon God deepens. Consider the Apostle Paul’s perspective:
7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.
11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 12 So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you. – 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 NLT
Paul saw the big picture. He knew in the deepest part of him that every day of his life was all about Jesus, and if Jesus took Him home it would be all the better (Phil.1:21)! The “setbacks” he endured would likely crush many of us today, as our hardships seem to pale in comparison. Yet the durability of Paul’s endurance lay in the fact that He trusted in the power of God. Let’s read verse 7 again: “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”
An anchor for our souls in times of suffering is to be deeply convinced of, and trust in God’s great love and power. As fragile and cracked clay jars, this can feel close to impossible at the time. Still, it’s in these moments of hardship and against all hope that I have found faith in God’s love and power to be incredibly rewarding. I love the passage in Romans that speaks of Abraham choosing to believe in God against ALL hope. It was that kind of faith that God determined was righteous (See Romans 4:18-25). Let me share a story that may help illustrate this idea.
Shortly after Jude was diagnosis with Tuberous Sclerosis, Vanessa and I began a journey to better understand God’s power and heart to bring healing. Against all hope, we were choosing to believe in God’s goodness and that His desire was to bring about complete healing for Jude. We began to hear more about “environments of faith” where belief in the miraculous seemed to be the norm. One such environment was at a church in Redding, California. We had personally interviewed a doctor from our town that had been miraculously healed of stage four cancer at one of this church’s “healing services”. It’s funny, but when medical minds acknowledge the glory of God and the healing power of Jesus, you tend to be especially inclined to listen to their story! We decided to make the 12-hour trek north. On our way, Vanessa and I spent hours in dialogue and prayer as we read books on healing and considered the numerous accounts of miracles Scripture tells us that Jesus and His disciples carried out. Could instantaneous and complete healing for Jude be in line with God’s plan? We believed the Lord was able; we believed he was willing. Our good friends, Phil, Jen and their 1-year-old boy Caleb, caravanned along with us on this particular trip; teaching us so much about love through their willingness to join us. We are forever grateful for the way they modeled Jesus to us.
It was about 9:00pm on a Friday night when we arrived in Redding. The church’s “prayer rooms” opened early the next morning so we settled into a Holiday Inn for the night. After getting Vanessa and Jude settled into our room, I went to wait for Phil and Jen who were about 15 minutes behind us. It was a seemingly insignificant moment, waiting downstairs checking my email on the lobby computer, however the Lord was about to do something miraculous. The door opened and closed a number of times welcoming weary travelers. Still, no Phil and Jen. Then something odd happened. A familiar frame walked through the front door. “Keith?”, I thought. I’ll have to look again…after all there’s no way my best friend from Oregon’s dad just walked through the front door. I blinked and looked again. Sure enough, it was Keith Slater and opening the door for him was Phil! All I could say was what I had thought earlier… “Keith?!”… then 2 second later, “Phil?… Do you guys know each other?” Of course they didn’t. Phil just happened to be arriving at the exact same moment that Keith and Barb were pulling in for the night on their way back to Oregon from Arizona. They walked through the front door, coming from completely different trajectories but arriving at precisely the same time… as if coordinated. Just so you get a picture for how crazy this was, let me tell you a bit about the Slater family. There son Jeff and I have been close friends since birth, you might even say before birth as our mom’s were pregnant together. Barb, in particular, had prayed extensively for Jude and even shared a couple of visions she had of him as an older boy talking clearly to groups of people about all God had done in his life. The Slaters, like so many others, were part of our healing journey and it was God’s grace to bring them to that hotel at the exact moment He did so they could pray with us the next morning.
Now the skeptic in me initially tried to discount this encounter as a wild coincidence. But it’s far too difficult when you really stop to think about it. Each of us were driving different speeds, stopping at various points, choosing that particular hotel, and then there is always the fact that I didn’t have to be waiting for Phil and Jen in the lobby. Phil still would have held the door open for Keith, but as two complete strangers. God was clearly orchestrating these events. We believe he did so to graciously let us know he cared. That he was with us and was pleased with our hearts to seek Him at all costs.
I wish I could say that Jude was miraculously healed on that trip. Or that God healed him the next weekend when we drove to Phoenix to take part in a similar healing service. In both cases our faith was strong and we made a conscious choice to believe God against all hope. The Lord had other plans. As I shared in the previous article, Embracing Real Life, Jude’s seizures did finally stop through a miraculous touch from Jesus after an “unsuccessful” brain surgery in New York. He still has Tuberous Sclerosis and likely always will. But the point in sharing this story is to say that Vanessa and I became thoroughly convinced of God’s love and power through this hardship. Like the cypress trees, our roots in the Lord have gone much deeper.
If we’ve trusted in Jesus, then His mighty Spirit dwells in our fragile frames every day of our lives. There is nothing we can go through that will break us, for his supernatural presence is our daily sustenance. Don’t you wonder sometimes why God would trust His glory to such risky vessels? As the passage above indicates, it is to ensure that He alone receives the glory! (2 Cor. 4:7).
In Psalm 119 David utters something that, for a long time I didn’t know what to do with. The Psalm reads, “I know, LORD, that your laws are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.” – v.75 NIV. Really? David felt the affliction of God and considered it His faithfulness? How does one get to that place? Perhaps Paul in the same letter we’ve looked at today understands this gracious heart of God to allow affliction into our lives:
“…So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. 8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10 NLT
Clearly, we are not to seek out suffering, but the Bible tells us a great deal about the good and sovereign purposes of God in allowing affliction into our lives. In the instance here, Paul was graced with the knowledge of why this affliction had beset him: it kept him from becoming proud on account of revelations he had received (v.7). Often, however, the reasons behind our sufferings are not so obvious, and that’s okay. As finite, and extremely dependent creatures as we are, I believe God has our best interests in mind when concealing this knowledge from us. At the end of the day we all must learn to trust ourselves to our faithful Creator (1 Peter 4:19). He is carrying out his good work in each of our lives and will do so until we are graced to behold Him face to face (1 John 3:2)
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV