I haven’t written much in quite a while. At times, I’ve not had anything to write about. At other times, what I did have to say was too overwhelming to try to put into words. But lately, there is something I feel the Lord has been impressing on me, and I hope I can communicate it in an understandable and not too long-winded way.
This reflection was born out of a time of prayer and meditation on various events and struggles in the lives of people I know. One of the main ones began a year ago, when a series of truly providential circumstances (too long to recount) led me to read a book called, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. I was riveted to this true story of a young man and his journey of faith from Islam to Christianity. I literally could not put it down and finished reading it in two days. Afterwards, I felt strangely led to go to his website. It was there I learned that the author, Nabeel Qureshi, a then 33 year-old new father, had just been diagnosed with Stage IV stomach cancer. I joined literally thousands over the next year who followed his video blog updates and prayed for his healing. So many people praying with so much faith, including him. But still, he passed away in September. He even declared many times that Jesus was able to raise him from the dead, and his wife delayed his burial for 7 days, in continued prayer. All this from a man with a conservative Christian background, as well as a medical degree and three theology degrees. The whole story of his life, timing of his diagnosis, etc. is unbelievably poignant and way too much to share here. But it is truly so inspirational – he lived and died amazingly well and his legacy will live on. If you have interest, I encourage you to read his book(s) and visit his Facebook page (where his widow continues to post updates).
This past year of following his journey and intensely praying for his healing has not shaken my faith, despite the outcome and great loss to his family and future ministry. But it has certainly left me with probably the biggest, “Why Lord?” I’ve ever had. There is so much I cannot understand looking at it from a finite “here and now” perspective.
I also think of a faithful Christian acquaintance just a little older than me. A mother of nine children, grandmother of twelve, beloved wife and loved by many others. Her husband is even a minister. Most people would describe her as one of the sweetest, most sacrificial people they know. Last year, she was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer in her tongue (and no, she didn’t smoke). What followed were medical procedures and intense suffering too horrible to even describe, all which failed to save her life – she died ten months later, last December. When I think of the horrendous physical pain she endured, and the early end to a faithful life, leaving so many heartbroken loved ones behind, it leaves me with another, “Why Lord?”
I think about and pray daily for the sufferings of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world who are enduring persecution for their faith. They live in countries too numerous to list. In fact, the majority of those who are following Jesus in this world are living under great difficulties and persecutions (after all, He told us if we followed Him, we would). I read their stories and I am humbled beyond words and moved to tears. The only daily hope they live with is looking forward to the New Heaven and New Earth.
I think about Jesus, when He hung on the cross and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Surely Jesus, of all people, had His theology straight. He knew exactly why He’d come, why He was dying and that He would rise again three days later. Not only that, but certainly He had the most intimate relationship with God, His own Father, than any other who walked the face of this earth. He knew all the truth (yea, He IS the Truth), and yet in that dark moment, it felt to Him that God, His Father, had abandoned Him. I find it interesting that in Hebrews 5:8 we are told, “Even though Jesus was God’s Son, He learned obedience from the things he suffered.” If Jesus, the One who was without sin, had to learn obedience through suffering, why would it be any different for us?
Recently, my spiritual twin brother has been on a very intense journey with God. I will not share his personal details, but suffice it to say he is in the midst of following some steps of radical obedience, the likes of which few people would ever consider. He’s basically stepped off a cliff with no safety net, and not even a real understanding of the “why” behind the things God is calling him to do. It’s truly one of the most sacrificially painful examples of “walking by faith and not sight” that I’ve ever witnessed. He has no guarantees that things will come to a happy conclusion – he’s just being obedient.
Certainly we have examples of “happy endings” in the Bible. Abraham was spared from having to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were saved from the flames of the furnace unharmed. And then there is Job, arguably the greatest sufferer of all time, next to Jesus. After he endured the loss of almost everything but his life, we are told, “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part.” (Job 42:12)
But lest we get too comfortable with these examples, what about the apostles, who history tells us all but one died a martyr’s death? Or many of the Old Testament prophets, such as Jeremiah. God chose Him as a prophet “before he was born.” (Jeremiah 1:5) He was never allowed to marry or have a family. He prophesied for nearly 40 years to a people who totally rejected his message. Several attempts were made to kill him. He saw the fall and captivity of his beloved nation because they would not listen to him. And in the end, he was forced to travel with the small remnant who were disobeying his warnings not to go to Egypt. Jewish historical tradition says he was later stoned by his own people there. He was not nicknamed “The Weeping Prophet” for nothing!
Which brings me to the point of all these mentionings. We’re told all throughout the New Testament that trials and suffering are a part of the Christian walk. Not only that, but these trials actually serve a purpose – to strengthen, refine and purify our faith. What that looks like is different for each person. But I’ve long believed for the church in the last days the times will be very dark, and it will often look and feel like we’ve been abandoned. What will we do in those times? Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8) Will we be hanging on and walking by faith, despite what we see or feel in the circumstances that surround us? If we are not “rooted and grounded in love” (Eph 3:17), then the pain and suffering we don’t understand can cause offense against God to rise in our hearts, and even the eventual abandonment of our faith.
What will we do when there seems to be no end to the darkness or pain in our life? What will we do when there is no happy ending to the story on this side? Jesus said, “Blessed is he who does not take offense at me.” (Luke 7:23) He made that statement in a message sent to John the Baptist, when John had sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask if He was the Messiah, or should they expect someone else. John had been imprisoned for his faithful witness, and shortly after receiving this answer from Jesus, he was beheaded.
The purpose of our time spent on this earth is not for God to make us happy, it is for Him to make us HOLY. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) I’m continuing to see more and more “faith shaking” events happening in the lives of so many people. And yet the Bible tells us that in the last days, God will “remove what can be shaken, so that only what cannot be shaken will remain.” (Hebrews 12:27) What is it that will remain? “Now these three remain: Faith, Hope and Love…” (1 Corinthians 13:13) So once again I will repeat, but rephrase Jesus’ question just a little differently:
When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith IN YOU?
Here is a song that I’ve posted before, but I think it is a fitting finish to remind us of what we are called to do in this life, NO MATTER WHAT!