Jehovah was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake: Jehovah was not in the earthquake.
And after the earthquake, a fire: Jehovah was not in the fire. And after the fire, a soft gentle voice. (1Kings 19:11-12)

Friday, January 20, 2017

How To Have Peace in a World full of Affliction {What it Means to Take Heart}

“Would you do it again?” He threw the question at me in the examination room 18 towering floors up above the bustling city.

I faltered as if the wind may have caused the skyscraper to sway.

“I can’t.”

I reached for a better response, squarely planted my feet, and lobbed it back.

“It will never be an option again. It was a one-time surgery. They told me, ‘there is no way my body would ever be able to handle it again.’”

He swivelled on his chair. I had misunderstood his question.

He leaned it, tossed another from a different angle: “Was it worth it?”

“Would you recommend the surgery to any other childhood cancer survivor if she needed it?”

The radiation oncologist who destroys cancer cells in children probed me with these questions. He was curious to know what I would say now that I had come through this non-conventional surgery done out of desperation—now that I was on this side of the stacks of medical files, all the pokes, and scars, and ongoing difficulties.

I finally got his point.

He asked me, if ever there is another patient that has come to this same long term side-effect--where the treatment killed the cancer and saved the child, but left the child scarred and made her heart so calcified it would shatter like eggshells at the surgeon’s touch--could I say: “Go ahead. Lay yourself on the cold operating table, and surrender your very life . . . to get more life?

Could I tell someone else to brave all the hazards to have the heart surgeon crack open your sternum when your one functioning lung may not draw in the breath of life once your body is taken off the lung-heart machine?

Was it worth all the risks, the pain, the weakness, the struggles, the delusions, the complications?

Ahh . . . well . . . “Yes!” Looking straight at him, I flung my answer across the room with tears teasing the corners of my eyes.

“I’m here; here with my family.”

I still get to be a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, neighbour. I know to live is Christ and to die is gain. And, here I am living. 

No, it wasn’t easy in any sense of the word. It broke me; brought me to the lowest I had ever been, left me cut off, hemmed in, confined, lonely. But, it didn’t destroy me. At the bottom of the bitter cup I was longing for a better place.

I came through the waters with a greater desire to know Christ more. It brought me to a deeper place of soul-searching for the ultimate meaning of our ‘being’.

Charles Spurgeon once said, “We get more good out of our adversity than out of our prosperity.”

So, I sat in the oncologist’s office at the Pediatric Cancer Aftercare Clinic, a year and a half after my heart-salvaging operation, where he can’t promise me a long life, but one marked with continued side effects that make living in this life challenging. He hurled hard realities at me.

He told me, if ten children had have been treated with the rare type of cancer that was rapidly growing in my body in 1979, seven to eight of them would not have made it to their eighth birthday. It was a terrible cancer and aggressive treatment.

These unofficial statistics are sobering. I sit with this awareness.

They keep me from asking “why me?” Instead I ponder: “why not me?”

Life is full of questions. And if we knew all the answers there would be no more questions.

I didn’t deserve to be spared; as a three year old fighting cancer or as a thirty-seven year old with a failing heart.

There was nothing that made me more deserving than any other to be rid of the cancer in my body or for my heart to be patched up to go on beating, ticking like a steady clock in a quiet room, keeping time to all the days that God has purposed for me.

I keep grappling for answers for the fundamental question: “Why am I here?”

We’ve been created to glorify God, to love Him, and enjoy Him forever. We turned from God and exchanged the truth of God for a lie. We worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator. In Adam, death reigns. In Christ, grace reigns. Grace is infinitely greater.

Sin has had its effect on this world. “The whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” {Romans 8:22}

Our mortal and corruptible bodies will suffer disease, decay, and death.

But as Christians, ones who have been justified by faith, who have been made new and been given new regenerated hearts that love God and know Him, we are no longer under the reign of sin. We have died to sin and we now live in the reign of grace.

That is why we take heart!

This is not some self-help, self-promoting scheme. This is the truth that God, the Father “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” {Colossians 1:13}

We are in Christ. We are children of God awaiting the final redemption, the full and final salvation that is absolutely certain. In Him is our peace.

To ‘take heart’ is to have confidence, to have courage, to be unafraid.

A quick word study reveals that the original meaning behind the word used is "showing boldness" and it comes as the “result of the Lord infusing His strength by His inworking of faith.”

Jesus said to his disciples just before he was taken away to be made sin, to die the death that we deserved, to suffer incomprehensible agonies as He conquered sin:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” {John 16:33}
Christ has made a way for us to be brought back to God, to no longer be slaves to sin, but to be made children of God.

It is the by the power of the Spirit of God working in us, that makes our hearts adore Christ, that makes us yearn after God, that opens the eyes of our hearts to know God, to taste and see that the Lord is good.

Jesus assured his disciples that there would be tribulation in this world. But, He promises a peace which co-exists with tribulation, a peace which is realized in and through conflict and struggle. Our peace is in Jesus Christ.

Christ bolsters our confidence, gives us courage. He has overcome the world—all that is opposed to God, all that would turn our desires away from God, anything that we would want more than God Himself.

For those of us in Christ, we will not escape tribulation.

Some of my tribulation has come from a diseased body, but this world is temporary. I am looking to that which is eternal. As a citizen of heaven, I gaze beyond the heavens and all the glory that is on display there and I realize a greater glory. That Jesus Christ has come to give us eternal life: that we might know the only true God and Jesus Christ.

We can take heart, show this unflinching, bold courage, live out the inner confidence that is Spirit-produced while we face tribulation because Jesus Christ has overcome the world.

Again, I quote Spurgeon, who reminds us: “As he died for us when we were ungodly, what will he not do for us now that he has sought us as his own? He gave the highest proof of his love to us when we were most unworthy of it, so will he leave us now?”

Whatever difficulty, tribulation, or affliction that is nearly squeezing the life out of you, take heart Jesus Christ has come to give eternal life to all that the Father has given him.

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