I’ll start this blog with a qualifying statement: One of the challenges of writing a blog is finding the time — or making the time– to write regularly- especially for me who hasn’t learned yet the discipline of writing a short blog! That’s certainly my challenge and explains the absence of a blog posting from me for several weeks. In a not-too-distant future blog, I’ll reveal a major time challenge that has been requiring many hours of my time. But for now, some more thoughts on grace — God’s sustaining grace.
On Jesus’ last night with his disciples, before being arrested by the Roman soldiers later that same evening, he shared many important truths with them that he wanted them to remember after he was gone. He stressed a new commandment that he was giving them — that they were to love one another as Jesus had loved them, and their supernatural love for one another would be a sign to the watching world that they were disciples or followers of Jesus. He reminded them that he was the Way, the Truth and the Life; he explained to them that he was the true vine, they were the branches, and they were to abide in him, drawing their spiritual and sustaining life from him. He also promised the coming of the Holy Spirit who would indwell them and teach them all things. He promised to leave his peace with them, and that he would fill them with his joy. He summed up these wonderful promises on a somber note when he solemnly stated: “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)
Jesus wanted to remind — and prepare — his disciples — that life would not be easy for them, but that, although he was going away, he was not abandoning them. Through the Holy Spirit, he would be with them, and in the midst of “tribulation” which was certain to come, he would give them his peace.
In spite of this caring reminder of Jesus to his disciples then and to us, his followers today, our reaction to the trials of life is often a perplexed “Why?” We often fail to factor in the reality that we live in a fallen world, under the curse of the original sin, and “bad things” will happen in the lives of everyone. Trials and suffering are the lot of living in a fallen world. Admittedly, sometimes the “tribulations” we face in this world can seem overwhelming. There are times when tribulation after tribulation stacks up in our life and like Job in the Old Testament, we cry out “Why, Lord?” and may feel we cannot face the present or the bleak future. We pray, but God doesn’t seem to hear or answer our prayers.
If we live long enough in this world, all of us will encounter some days that are painful and difficult, and admittedly, some people seem to be afflicted more often and more deeply than others. Now before all of you become too depressed, let me quickly add some words of great hope. God wants us to know — to really know –.that God’s sustaining grace is available — and sufficient for whatever tribulation he allows in our life!
The apostle Paul, whom most would consider a spiritual giant, shared a time in his life when he was suffering from some unidentified, but very painful affliction. Interestingly, he described it as a “thorn,” a messenger of Satan (not only physical but spiritual affliction), and even more interesting, Paul stated that the Lord had given him this affliction to keep him from becoming too conceited (or unusable for the Lord’s purposes) because of the tremendous revelations he had been given by the Lord. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) Whatever the affliction was, it became so unbearable that Paul pleaded with the Lord, not once, but three times, to remove the affliction. God’s loving and purposeful answer was, “No, I’m not going to remove the affliction, but instead I’m going to teach you to know and experience that my grace is sufficient for you, and my power is made perfect in your weakness.”
Paul’s amazing response was: “Therefore, I will boast more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me…..For the sake of Christ, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Amazing!
I am so thankful that Paul was willing to be made an example and demonstration of the sufficiency of the sustaining grace of God in the most difficult and painful of circumstances. That same grace is available from God today for each of his children as we look to him in trust and faith.
I want to briefly as possible (some who know me would say that is a challenge for me!) to share one experience in my life where God provided his sufficient and sustaining grace to me.
My husband, Jerry, and I were in our early 40’s and involved in a ministry God had started, and tremendously blessed, in our home. My husband was a gifted Bible teacher and his teaching style forthright and challenging, and often filled with humor. Our home was filled with people, mostly young adults, with a hunger to know God’s Word. People were being saved and and growing in their daily relationship with Jesus Christ. But in the midst of this thriving ministry, my very healthy husband became ill with flu-like symptoms which gradually worsened until he ended up in a coma in ICU. Specialists were called in, extensive blood tests were done, but doctors could not identify his illness. They only knew some strong infection was raging throughout his body.
Many intense prayers were offered up for JEERRY’S healing, by the 100 or so who were involved in our local ministry and by many friends and supporters around the country. They were prayers of faith and confidence that God would heal Jerry. It was inconceivable to us that God would let him die…not when he was using Jerry in a powerful way in the lives of so many people. But, his condition continued to worsen, and after 9 days in ICU, on an Easter Sunday morning, God took Jerry to his heavenly home at the age of 43.
Time and space does not allow me to share all I would like to at this point, but for me, it was a time of deep loss, and questions. I had not just lost my mate, I had lost my partner in ministry. The future looked uncertain and lonely. But God! My faithful Father became so real and close and ministered to me so faithfully each day, especially through his Word. Those first few mornings following Jerry’s death when I would wake up, and think, I cannot face this day without Jerry, the Lord would literally bring into my mind Lamentations 3:21-23: But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is his faithfulness. And that reminder that his mercies were new and available every morning would give me strength and determination to trust my Father for that day.
The Lord gave me hope in the midst of the pain and questions. When I struggled with what purpose the Lord had for me, now a single person, he graciously assured me through Psalm 138:8 that “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;” and how wonderfully he has done that through the years that followed. When the confusing questions would overwhelm me and I would sob out, “Lord, I don’t understand, I just don’t understand,” his gentle and reassuring answer was: “I’m not asking you to understand. I’m just asking you to trust me.”
When my husband became sick and died, I had no health insurance and no savings, but within one year of my husband’s death, God had amazingly made provision to pay off all expenses associated with his illness and death. His fingerprints were all over the needed provision of jobs, homes, cars, people he has put into my life and the unexpected paths he has led me on.
But it was during those days of Jerry’s illness and death that the truth of his grace being sufficient for me became an ongoing reality. . It is in our weakness, that we experience his power and provision. It is in our times of desperation, we discover his sufficiency. His grace continues to be amazing!
In my next blog, I will share a time when his grace became a life line that protected my heart from bitterness.
Until the next blog….may you know daily the sufficiency of his sustaining grace!