I do not think I would be too out of line when I say that many people can point to various pivotal moments in their lives which have so impacted the very core of their being that their lives have henceforth been intrinsically changed, hopefully for the better. One of those moments happened to me recently.
We have a dear friend who has discovered that he has cancer. Surgery has taken place and we await the revelation of the extent of the cancer; the reality is that the cancer is life-threatening. This man has been a health-conscious person for his entire life and, indeed, his career was based on a natural approach to medicine. His complete faith in a holistic, natural approach as a way to both a healthy life, as well as a way to personally control his physical life, has been passionate and thoroughly implemented.
He disclosed these habits to several of his friends recently, ending his dissertation with one of those ‘powerful moment’ comments. With tears running down his face, he said, “I have finally come to realize that my passion for natural health and my faith in its ability, both dietary and medicinal, has become an idol to me. I have done everything right in regard to my health — even to the point of not eating a cookie at the church potluck. Yet, the cancer gene flipped a switch one day — regardless of my persistent effort to deny it of any opportunity to rise and conquer what I thought I controlled. Yes, I have made my health an idol and I finally see it for what it has become, an idol.”
You can imagine that this one hit me hard. Do I not do the very same thing? Do I not try to eat a healthy diet — take the appropriate supplements — use naturopathic approaches to fix my specific ills and genetic tendencies? Yes, absolutely.
This story is not about the right or wrong of choosing a holistic approach to our human health. Our health choices are wisdom issues. Scripture tells us to use wisdom with our earthly temples. However, when our wise decisions become so possessive of our hearts that we forget that it is God alone who orchestrates the path and days of our lives, we end up creating idols of our own making. We end up being possessed by its very nature because our passion for longevity masks the important factual distinction that it is God alone who controls the number of our days.
There are other pivotal moments in my life which come to mind as I ponder the words of my friend; moments which give me confidence in God’s hand in orchestrating and guiding my own personal sanctification.
In my young adult life, I had a severe miscarriage between my two children when I was five months along in the pregnancy. While I was in the hospital, I shared a room with an elderly lady who had just come out of surgery for a hysterectomy. All day long, people from our church streamed through my hospital room with offers of help such as meals and babysitting for my one-year old daughter. Because I am an introvert and a more private person, I repeatedly said, “You don’t need to do that. We are OK.”
Yet, I really did need their help. I had hemorrhaged greatly and I had no family in the immediately area to call upon for help. As evening came upon us, this wise woman said to me, “Honey, don’t you know that they need to help you as much as you need their help?” I have never forgotten her wise words. Both my pride and my introverted nature pushed aside and ignored the very gift that God had given to me in a time of great need.
Another “ah-ha” moment in my life concerned my realization that the Mormon Church was indeed not the Christian church it professed to be. In my early 20′s I was searching both for solid, biblical truth, as well as a biblical expression of that truth within a local church body, an endeavor which would continue for many years to come. It begs the question, “Why was it so hard to find a faithfully biblical church?”
In my diligent effort and desire to be faithful to God as revealed in Scripture, I noticed that my Mormon friends were much more dedicated to their faith/church than those I observed in my local Southern Baptist Church. Thus began my research, a trait that is a part of my very being. Through my persistent investigation, God revealed to me the errors of the Mormon Church. He did so without the help of another Christian person, using means which were not commonly available in that era. Yet, they were ordinary means because God most often works in the ordinary.
The fact that God was able to do this alone, without the help of man, blew up every imagination I had created of man’s abilities and desires. My abilities and desires. I wanted Mormonism to be true because I had chosen it as my personal desire. I liked what I saw. The people were generous and kind. I saw hypocrisy upon hypocrisy in the evangelical churches surrounding me. Even my pastor did not give me sound, reasoned answers when I went to him for counsel. He merely said, “You need to shut the door on them. There’s nothing more to say.”
Being a Christian does not mean that sound, reasoned answers are not available to the believer which God has chosen and called unto Himself. The words and actions of my pastor (at the time) made me pursue Mormonism with an even greater fervor. Thankfully, we have a God bigger than those who fail us. God used this in my life to spur me on to know what I believe about God and why I believe it.
The day I received the news that my mother has passed away was a bit surreal. Mom had always been there. She was Mom. Though we lived thousands of miles apart from each other, our phone calls and conversations were frequent. One phone call toward the end of her life fits the categories of powerful and precious.
Mom suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease. The disease, however, had not taken away the memories of those things in the past which meant the most to her. One day Mom asked me to sing Amazing Grace to her on the phone. I quickly responded and started to sing her favorite song. Mom soon joined in, singing all of the verses perfectly with me. I would have supposed that she might have forgotten the words. Though her mind was dying a slow death, the cherished words of this theologically-sound hymn continued to resonate with her, a believer, touching her deeply to the point of tears.
This precious moment taught me the importance of memorizing scripture and hymns which are faithful to scripture. When this is practiced in our early lives, as we age and become less cognizant of our surroundings, scripture will continue to live in our hearts and in our minds. This shouldn’t surprise us. God told us twice in Deuteronomy alone (chapters 6 and 11) that “You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” God surely had a reason to ask us to do this.
Last year, my beloved dog, Charlie, died of liver cancer. Another heart-piercing moment to remind me that my personal life is not eternal on this earth (even when I feel invincible and self-sufficient.) It advised me to consider that my pilgrim life on this planet is now shorter than I desire. It admonished me to long for my future home with God rather than to treasure the ruin of this one. It stressed that our deaths are very real as humans but gave the assurance of Hebrews 9:7 and Psalm 139:1-6. It is God who orchestrates our days. He alone is faithful to complete the work He started in us. Note: He begins and finishes the work. Me, myself and I do not. “And I am sure of this, that he who began good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
These events were not easy to process at the time. An understanding of them did not happen overnight because our sanctification is a ongoing work, a movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He is the One who sanctifies the lives of God’s chosen beloved.
Our sanctification does not consist of instantaneous, miraculous self-revelations as some charismatics might be inclined to say. Rather, God works most of the time in the ordinary. This is not to say that He does not, on occasion, work in the miraculous, but that in the generations following his death, we should expect the ordinary rather than the miraculous. In both Matthew 12 and Matthew 16, Jesus admonishes his listeners against desiring signs and wonders. Hebrews 1 reminds us that “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” Long ago, God used the miraculous for the Hebrew people. Even the miraculous failed to stir their obedience. Thus, in these last days, God sent Jesus. (note: I love that this passage also refers to the Trinitarian nature of Christ.) Sadly, evangelicalism has it all turned around, expecting the miraculous rather than appreciating the ordinary means that God uses in our lives today.
I would be remiss if I did not share one more powerful moment in my life. The moments I mentioned above are only a few remembrances of those times God has taught me through His loving hand of sanctification. Slowly, but surely, this heart continues to desire more of Him and less of myself.
Frequently, my oldest granddaughter, who has a very sensitive heart, will tell me that she loves me. Recently, she climbed up into my lap, curled up into a snuggled position, then leaned in towards me, whispering so only I could hear, “Grandmama, I really, really, really, really love you.” Now, to some of you, this may seem very ordinary — a granddaughter telling her grandmother that she is loved. But to the ears of a grandmother who never heard her own father say the words, “I love you,” this is an extraordinary blessing.
That the Father loves me (even in my sin) as His beloved child is a gift of immeasurable worth. That my Father created my granddaughter with a heart inclined to sweetness (though still in need of a Savior) cannot be over-valued. That God sent His Son to save all of His beloved — that He will be faithful and not one will be lost — well, there are no words. God loves in ways which we will never comprehend, but in ways which He alone knows we need. Ordinary ways; ordinary means.
We are already seated with our Heavenly Father in heaven, even while we continue to labor on our earthly home. Though we labor, how marvelous to breathe in these precious and powerful moments give to us by God!
I am grateful.