Sharing Christ’s Cup

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me…”

Psalm 23:4

This summer, I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Greg Harris and his wife, Betsy, while I was taking classes at The Master’s College in California. After speaking to them for only a few minutes, I was struck by how kind and gracious they each were. Only later would I learn about some of the amazing work God has done in the Harrises’ lives through times of great suffering and darkness. Dr. Harris has described some of their story in his book on suffering and the sovereignty of God entitled The Cup and The Glory.    

In the introduction of his book, Dr. Harris describes how a simple lesson he attempted to teach his young daughter, Lauren, would soon be used by God to teach him far more about trust and obedience than he would ever have imagined. When Lauren took some candy from his desk without asking, Dr. Harris required that she return it saying, “Place them both in my hands.” He continues the story:

Little did I realize what I was trying to teach our children would in just a few hours be thrust on Betsy and myself as our heavenly Father would call for the same obedience from us. Having informed those at the Wednesday service of the serious problems in Betsy’s pregnancy, problems discovered only on the previous day, and having been comforted by the love and support of these cherished friends, we moved in a dazed stupor as Betsy unexpectedly went into labor later that very night. As we rushed to the hospital about midnight, we knew the situation was quite grim for the identical twin girls she was carrying. As Lauren’s earlier, my response was quite reluctant. Even at the hospital when we first received the news the babies yet to be born would not live, I still expected deep inside if I gave the twins to God, then He would give them back to me. Until the nurses gently wrapped the first lifeless baby into blankets and carried her away from us, and then repeated the process with the second baby, I somehow believed there was still an outside hope for them. Only after the nurse walked down the hall with our second baby and turned the corner forever out of our sight this side of heaven, did I fully realize this was one of those times when God had closed His hand over what had been placed into it…

Hours earlier I had instructed Lauren how deeply we loved her, and how we desired the best for her. I told her whether or not I gave her the candy she wanted was no indication of our love for her. These words were said probably more for my own benefit than for that of a four-year-old. Once more the Lord brought my own teaching back to me. God’s love for His children is not only stated in Scripture but also ultimately demonstrated in the sacrificial death of His own Son, Jesus. Even more so, God knows firsthand what it was like to stand by and watch the death of His own child—and He could have intervened and stopped it at any moment. God has exhibited His love for us in not only making us His children, but in infinitely countless ways every day of our existence. His love for us—and for our twins—is not contingent on whether we bring the little girls into our home, or God brings them into His.

“Place them both into My hands.”

“We have, Lord, and thank You for taking such good care of them.”

[The Cup and the Glory, pp. 10-11]

Traveling through the valley of the shadow and then the wilderness for several years after that tragic event, Dr. Harris gained a great deal of wisdom which he has graciously shared in The Cup and the Glory. In the following video, Dr. Harris explains more about the purpose and message of this powerful book.

Photo: Konrad Mostert

Finding Hope for the Journey Home

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me…”

Psalm 23:4

In a recent biblical counseling assignment, I was asked to read Jay Adam’s booklet How to Handle Trouble and then write a letter providing advice to a woman suffering from terminal cancer. Perhaps my counsel to her from God’s Word will provide comfort for someone else who needs it…

“As I read your letter telling me of your recent diagnosis and the doctor’s belief that there was no longer any hope of recovery, I was deeply saddened to think of the tremendous grief that you and your family members must be feeling. I would imagine you feel as though your world has been turned upside down by this unexpected news, and I want you to know that I am grieving with you and praying for you. You wrote to ask me for help to make it through this time of suffering, and by God’s grace, I will do my best to provide you with reassurance from His precious Word. He has not left you alone in this battle; He is your refuge and strength, your ever present help in time of trouble, and therefore, you have no need to fear (Ps. 46:1). Even though the doctors can no longer provide you with hope, I want to encourage you to turn your eyes to the God of all hope as we ask Him to “fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13).

Suffering is the common experience of all human beings, whether saved or unsaved, righteous or unrighteous. Although your present suffering will bring with it much pain and sadness, as a believer in Jesus Christ you will also experience a level of joy and peace in the midst of your suffering that the unbeliever can never know. For the one apart from Christ, suffering is meaningless. He can never know, nor hope to know the reasons behind his suffering. But for you, a child of God, there is hope and comfort in knowing that God will not allow your suffering to go to waste. Romans 8:28-29 provides a foundation upon which you can securely stand during this difficult time, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” In this passage, God has revealed a comforting truth about His sovereignty over suffering—every pain has a part in His plan.

The first and most important truth for you to remember in this trying time is that God is at work in your pain. Believing this truth will be an act of faith on your part, since it will often be difficult to see how God’s hand could be at work when you are experiencing such grief and pain. That is when you must believe by faith that what God’s Word declares to be true is true for you regardless of what your feelings tell you to believe. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Cry out to God for the strength to interpret your circumstances through your faith, instead of evaluating your faith based upon your circumstances. Look to the examples of Joseph and Job in the Old Testament. Neither man’s circumstances gave him any logical reason to believe God was still at work in his life, yet each clung to his trust in the character of God. After losing his livestock, servants, children, and his own health, Job remained confident in the faithfulness of the Lord, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another!” (Job 19:25-27). Even though Job had no earthly reason to believe God was at work in his suffering, he continued to view his life through the eyes of faith.

The second important truth for you to remember is that God will not fail to produce good from your suffering. God’s sovereignty alone would be of little comfort if we had no assurance that He was also good, but the Scriptures provide us with multiple assurances that our God is both completely sovereign and perfectly good. When you struggle with feeling that God is no longer good to you, remember Nahum 1:7, “The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.” As you seek His strength, you will probably be allowed glimpses of the good plans that He is fulfilling through your battle with cancer. These glimpses will come through your growth in Christlikeness as your faith is tested and tried and comes forth as gold (1 Pet. 1:7), or perhaps through opportunities you have to share the gospel with doctors, nurses, friends, and family members who ask you to explain the reason for the hope that is in you (1 Pet. 3:15), or through the joyous experience of seeing another come to faith in Christ after observing His power at work in your life.

God’s goodness may be seen in many forms here on this earth, but it will only be fully displayed once we pass from this life into His presence. Paul, who experienced far greater suffering in his life than most Christians will ever know, found tremendous comfort in the knowledge that every bit of earthly pain he felt would be vastly outweighed by eternal joy, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18). Knowing that Paul had experienced persecution, slander, beatings, imprisonment, abandonment, and shipwrecks during his ministry, it is almost shocking to hear him describe his suffering as being “light and momentary,” yet because of his confidence in God’s goodness, Paul knew this description was accurate. Ask God to help you view your future through the same eternal perspective that enabled Paul to say, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). We often refer to a person’s death as the loss of life, yet for the Christian who knows that to be “absent from the body” is to be “present with the Lord,” death is not the loss of life, but the gaining of eternal life.

Although your battle with cancer brings with it many causes for sorrow, it will also offer you countless opportunities to bring glory to God in your remaining days. Not one of us is promised tomorrow, but we often live as though our tomorrows are guaranteed. Your diagnosis has brought you face to face with the fleeting nature of your earthly existence and has freed you from the illusion that your time on earth is unlimited. I want to encourage you to follow our Lord’s example as He faced His darkest moments on earth, yet continued to pray “not my will, but yours be done.” Christ’s greatest desire was to glorify His Father through His life and death, and our desire should be the same (2 Cor. 5:9). As you seek His strength in your weakness, you will discover that His grace is sufficient for your every need (2 Cor. 12:9).”

Praying for you and looking forward to that day when our faith will be sight,

Melissa

Related Post: When Weeping Isn’t Enough

Photo: Martin Boose

Seeing Clearly through the Darkness

“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
   but now my eye sees you…”

Job 42:5

Released to the public less than two weeks ago, Mary Beth Chapman’s first book is already reaching a wide audience. Yesterday on Twitter, Mary Beth’s husband Steven Curtis Chapman said, “Amazing news received today…my bride’s book Choosing To See has the #16 spot on New York Times Best Seller list this week. Wow! Humbled.”

In the following excerpt from Choosing to See and the video below, Mary Beth talks openly about the life she never planned to live, the book she never planned to write, and the God at the center of it all:  

So here I am, putting down these words one by one, because God has surprised me over the long days since Maria went to heaven. I have come face to face with evil and what part it plays in our lives, past, present, and future. I am realizing, though, that God is God, and He is purposeful in destroying what evil intends for harm. He is surprising me in good ways beyond what can be measured on this earth! I am living what I once only read in Genesis 50:20-21, where Joseph tells his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children…”

…The truth is, I was born with a plan. I wanted life to be safe and predictable. My plan was to marry someone with a nice nine-to-five schedule and have a tidy, organized life—everything under control.

Absolutely none of that came true!

And if it had—if I had lived the life I thought I wanted—I know I wouldn’t have experienced the grace or the miracles of God in the way that I have. What I’ve found is that it’s in the most unlikely times and places of hurt and chaos that God gives us a profound sense of His presence and the real light of His hope in the dark places.

So this book isn’t as much about me and Steven, as broken and crazy as we are. It’s about God…and how He can comfort, carry, and change us on our journey, no matter how hard it is.

[Choosing to See, pp. 24-25]

Visit Mary Beth’s blog HERE.

Related Post: The Chapmans–Choosing to SEE

When Weeping Isn’t Enough

“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted…”

Psalm 34:18

Knowing how to properly comfort another during a time of grief and loss is one of the great challenges of the Christian life. On many occasions as we follow the Scriptural instruction to weep with those who weep, we’ll find that our tears and our presence are the only expressions of comfort necessary. Yet there are also times when mourners need more than a comforting presence alone, they need words of truth and hope around which they can wrap their hurting hearts. Perhaps you or someone you know are in that place of mourning. If so, I hope God will use the following letter to minister grace to you in your time of need.

In a recent biblical counseling assignment, I was asked to read the book From Grief to Glory and then write a two-page letter to parents who had written to request counsel after suffering the loss of their 4 year-old daughter to cancer. This is what I wrote…

It was with a mixture of sadness and joy that I read your letter. I felt sadness first, because my heart is grieved to hear of the suffering and indescribable pain which the two of you experienced as you cared for your precious daughter throughout her long illness and which you are now experiencing as you mourn your tremendous loss. Yet in spite of the great sadness, I also felt joy in reading your letter as I saw that though your pain is excruciating, you have not allowed it to overwhelm you. You are holding fast to your faith and reaching out for the help that you need to endure this trial. That is a true miracle for which we can praise God.

In response to your request for counsel that will strengthen and help you during your time of mourning, I am sending you this letter. Before I attempt to share advice that I pray you will find helpful, I want to clarify that on my own I would be utterly powerless to say one word that would give you comfort. I have not been where you have been, nor felt the pain that you feel every moment of every day. If all I had to rely on was my personal experience and knowledge, I would have nothing to offer you. But thankfully, God has given us His Word which is sufficient to guide us through every trial that the human soul could ever face. It is from the rich treasure of the Scriptures that I have drawn the counsel which I share with you today. Because I believe God’s Word contains everything that we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3), I know that it is there that you will find all the help and hope that your hurting hearts so desperately need.

You are in a deep state of grief right now, and that is right and proper in the wake of such a loss as yours. God gave you your little girl as a treasure to love and cherish, and you did that well during her brief time here on earth. Children are one of God’s greatest earthly gifts, and as such, they provide us with unique experiences of joy that cannot be found outside of parenthood. With your daughter’s departure from this world, you have lost not only the joys that you had grown accustomed to experiencing in her presence, but also all of the joys that you had expected to enjoy throughout your future together. The mourning of these losses is a proper response from loving parents. Your grieving process will take time, probably a very long time, but God will provide you with the grace you need to come to a place of healing. Keep your hearts fixed on that hope. “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps. 30:5). 

Even though your grieving is great, I want to remind you that as believers, you are not grieving in the same way as those who don’t know Christ. Because you know Him and the power of His resurrection, you can grieve the loss of your daughter with hope. She is not lost to you forever, but has only fallen asleep in Jesus. Our great hope as Christians is that just as Christ was raised from the dead, so we too will one day experience the resurrection of our earthly bodies when He returns (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Because of Christ’s resurrection, we can look forward to the resurrection of our loved ones with confidence and say with the writers of Scripture, “O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55). Although the pain of your daughter being unable to return to you is weighty, your load will be made slightly lighter as you look forward to the day when you will be free to go to her and spend eternity together in the presence of our Savior (2 Sam. 12:22-23).

You may feel isolated and lonely as you realize that friends and family members are failing to comprehend your grief. In their attempt to comfort you, people will likely say things that actually bring you more pain. In these moments, remember that though they may do a poor job of it, your loved ones do want to help and encourage you. Remembering this fact will help you to be patient in the midst of others’ awkward attempts to provide comfort. In those times when it seems that every human being you know is incapable of empathizing with your pain, run to your Savior for help, knowing that He understands your experience perfectly. The book of Isaiah tells us that when God’s people experienced affliction, He, too, felt the pain of that affliction (Is. 63:9). As you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, remember that you are not walking alone. Your Shepherd is guiding you safely through the darkness. Stay close to His side as you share your heart with Him in prayer, “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us” (Ps. 62:8), and as you find guidance in the Scriptures, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105). The burden of your loss is too great for you to carry alone, and God never intended for you to do so. “Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken” (Ps. 55:22).

Perhaps the greatest question plaguing your mind in the wake of your tragic loss is “Why?” It is not wrong for you to ask this question as long as you are willing to leave the timing of the answer in the Lord’s hands. As much as we in our humanness are prone to believe that our grief would be greatly relieved if we only knew the reason for our pain, God knows that our need to know Him is far greater than our need to know the answer to any question. At the end of Job’s epic experience of suffering, God didn’t console him by pulling back the veil separating the physical realm from the spiritual to reveal Satan’s assault against him. He reminded Job instead of the incomprehensible greatness of His power and wisdom. Although God may allow you to catch glimpses of the reason behind your suffering, He will only fully reveal the answers when you too depart this world to enter His presence. Until then, console your hearts with the knowledge that God in His wisdom has a plan, and that even when we can’t see it, that plan is good. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:9).

Romans 8:28-29 is so familiar to us that we often ignore the tremendous comfort God has provided for us in those two verses, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” As His children, God loves you far more than you could ever imagine. He will not allow your suffering to go to waste, but will use every last bit of pain you’ve endured to accomplish His good and glorious purposes in your lives. Through this experience, you will become more like Jesus Christ, you will know God in ways you never could have otherwise, and you will bring Him more glory on this earth. Cling to Him as you seek His strength to walk by faith and not by sight until you reach that glorious day when, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

Praying that the God of all comfort will strengthen you with His amazing grace,

Melissa

 

Related Post: God’s Love for the Little Ones

Photo: Nino Satria