The Promises of God amid the Tragedies of Life

My brother and I awoke one Sunday morning to commotion in the hallway below. Hurrying down the winding staircase, we saw before us our father lying on a stretcher, suffering a heart attack. Mom told us, “I’m going to the hospital. Go upstairs and pray.” So there we sat in our bedroom, Eric at age nine and me at age seven, praying every way we knew how, that Dad would live. When my mother returned, we ran to her. “How is he?” we asked. “He’s dead,” she replied. Our world changed that day.

It can be difficult to reconcile the promises of God with the tragedies of life. I had been taught to trust that God hears our prayers and answers them, yet when it came to the most important plea in a child’s life, my ask went unfulfilled. Afterward, though I petitioned in hope, there was often an accompanying element of anxiety and doubt, especially when praying for healing. Then one day beamed a glimmer of light—a Biblical event shining clarity into my soul. It was the story of three exiled Hebrews brought before the Babylonian king for not worshiping an image he had made. Threatened with a furnace for noncompliance, they answered him, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”1 There it was—both faith in God’s power and submission to God’s sovereignty. God wields His power within His larger plan; neither negates the other. Didn’t Jesus, facing torture and sacrificial death, express the same in Gethsemane? “My Father,” He pleaded, “if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”2 If Jesus subjected His will to God’s sovereign purpose and plan, can we do likewise? Yes, we can. For He answers our prayers with love, power and wisdom that exceed our own.

Epilogue. For decades it seemed to me that death had consumed my father’s life that July morning in 1965, and with it, our family happiness. Yet once more it was Scripture showing me the opposite, for as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, we long to “clothed . . . with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”3 Death need not consume our life, for in Christ life swallows up our death. We live in this glorious hope.

Father, thank You that you hear us when we pray; we know that You always do.4 We choose this day to trust in Your power and submit to Your sovereignty. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer. Amen.

1 Daniel 3:16-17 NIV [emphasis added]
2 Matthew 26:390 NASB [emphasis added]
3 2 Corinthians 5:4 NIV [emphasis added]
4 John 11:41-42


An Invitation to Redirection

It was Bruce Cameron who invited me to participate as a volunteer in what would be my first Kairos prison ministry weekend. I had always had a heart for the incarcerated— not in the sense of minimizing their crimes, but imagining the overwhelming sense of failure and hopelessness— so when Bruce asked, I said, “yes.” Likewise, when Rich Mendola invited Peggy and me to participate in International Friendships’ (IFI) Friday night Bible study, we agreed. Through IFI, we had hosted many international students in our home over the years, building warm relationships along the way, so this was a natural step into deeper involvement. In retrospect, accepting these two invitations marked a seismic shift in my spiritual journey, for God worked through these ministries to redirect my gaze outwardly.

One of the last lessons Jesus taught on earth was that following Him means applying internal learning through external doing. After washing each of His disciples’ feet, He addressed them all: “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”1 In essence, Jesus was exemplifying the two greatest commandments: Love God with everything you are, and love others as much as you love yourself. “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets,”2 He had once said.

Yet over time we find that joining God’s invitations to serve others doesn’t feel like “law” at all; rather, as Paul refreshingly proclaims, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”3 And when we follow the Spirit’s lead into the “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do,”4 we experience the joy of obedience. For “the obedience that comes from faith”5 is not a means of earning God’s approval, but the joyful celebration that, in Christ, we already have it and the proclamation that others can, too.

God does equip us for His work, and He will call us to it. Some invitations may seem “bigger,” such as ongoing involvement in an established ministry, yet most will seem “smaller,” like the friend who cries out in despair, needing comfort, truth, and hope. Truth is, they’re all big. So watch expectantly and listen carefully. Then go eagerly.

Father, thank You for involving us in Your work. What a great gift of purpose! Draw us close, that we would know Your heart, speak clearly, that we may hear Your voice, and strengthen us in Your Spirit to go bear fruit for You. In Christ we pray. Amen.

1 John 13:13-17 NIV [emphasis added]
2 Matthew 22:40
3 2 Corinthians 3:17 [emphasis added]
4 Ephesians 2:10 NIV
5 Romans 1:5 NIV


The Glory that Awaits Us

Mercury Morris was a running back with the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only team in NFL history to go undefeated throughout an entire season. When asked what it was like to have been part of this unequaled feat, Morris thoughtfully reflected, “I asked Buzz Aldrin once, ‘What was it like to walk on the moon?’” Pausing briefly, Morris continued, “I still don’t know. All I know is what [Aldrin] told me.” Which is to say there are some things in life we cannot understand until we experience them. Such is the case with God’s glory.

God’s gift of grace is the overflow of His nature of grace. He is full of grace and truth,1 and in great love He lavishly pours out His merciful kindness to us undeserving people. In prodigious proportions, He showers us with His own righteousness, strength, and sufficiency, and in unmatched generosity, He saves us, redeems us, and transforms us into the image of Christ. Then consider this, also: though “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”2 the “God of all grace [has] called [us] to his eternal glory in Christ.”3 Even now, we are “being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory,”4 and it shows, for God works through our spiritual gifts, which is “the manifestation of the Spirit,”5 and “the fruit of the Spirit”6 in our lives testifies to the divine nature of Christ in us. And in all things, God’s glory in us ultimately glorifies Him. Paul writes, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”7 This is truth; this is grace.

Yet a far greater glory awaits us. To the Colossians Paul wrote, “Your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”8 To believers in Rome, he reflected, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”9 And to the Corinthians, Paul marveled, “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived—the things God has prepared for those who love him.”10 So, what will it ultimately look like to fully experience God’s glory? I still don’t know. All I know is what the Bible tells me. But it’s going to be good . . .

Father, Your promises are sure. Enlighten our hearts, that we may know the hope of Your calling, the riches of the glory of Your inheritance in us, and the greatness of Your power toward us who believe.11. In Christ we pray. Amen.

1 John 1:14
2 Romans 3:23
3 1 Peter 5:10
4 2 Corinthians 3:18
5 1 Corinthians 12:7
6 Galatians 5:22-23
7 2 Corinthians 4:6-7
8 Colossians 3:3-4
9 Romans 8:18
10 1 Corinthians 2:9
11 Ephesians 1:18-21