Ordinary Gifts for Extraordinary Trials
How God Carries Us Through Suffering
After my wife’s second surgery within a week, I was reminded again that even successful surgeries include pain, complications, and high levels of discomfort. I couldn’t do anything useful except be present for her. Eventually I couldn’t even do that as hospital visiting hours ended. My mind and notebook were filling up with details on medications and therapies. The Airbnb room was comfortable, but it wasn’t home. Sleep was both short and restless, and I was out of all my normal routines.
All the elements — and excuses — came together for anxiety, bitterness, and fear to take control. Most dangerously, I didn’t appreciate how vulnerable I was, so I wasn’t actively orienting myself to my greatest source of strength in God and his word. My thoughts and feelings were quietly beginning their combined assault on my hope. My heart was already grumbling.
The First Gift
I grabbed my phone as I walked to breakfast, intending to review my notes before going to the hospital.
And then God helped.
First, the devotional app on my phone caught my attention. I tapped on it. And this was the opening sentence:
Suppose you are totally paralyzed and can do nothing for yourself but talk.
My wife wasn’t in that bad of shape when I left her the night before, but pretty close. The devotion that morning, drawing on John 15:5, reminded me that the thing my wife and I needed most, and the thing that would simultaneously glorify God most, was to pray.
Prayer is the open admission that without Christ we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves to God in the confidence that he will provide the help we need.
Comfort and Courage
Then, I got the first text of the day, very early, from a godly friend who was praying for my wife. Then the next text came from a friend who was praying for me. And then the next, and the next. We were being bathed in prayer from around the country.
A little later, I opened my Bible app, and God gave me Psalm 71:1–3:
In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame! In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me! Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.
My heart was both comforted and emboldened in God promises. The three conspirators against me — my sinful anxiety, the world’s fear of all kinds of suffering, and Satan’s designs for me to look anywhere but God — were defeated. For that moment.
I have trusted God as my hope for more than two decades. I have more stories than I can count of his rescue and peace in light of suffering in my family. But the key question every day is not did I trust him before, but will I trust him right now? Will I cling to him and to his promises in this moment?
The help God provided wasn’t some unusual spiritual magic. It was the supernatural help he is pleased to provide through his very normal means:
- Our local church has helped us see, and experience, that reading God’s word is not duty but delight.
- We are surrounded by believers who weep with us and rejoice with us, and who remind us of the sure promises of God in his word. When we ask them to pray and help, they pray and help.
- On the advice of godly people I trust, I intentionally put apps on my phone that point me to him.
Prepare for Trouble Today
David Mathis writes about how the spiritual disciplines serve our joy in Christ. He focuses on three main areas: hearing God’s voice (in his word), having his ear (in prayer), and belonging to his body (in covenant fellowship). Consciously, I was neglecting those means on that morning after my wife’s surgery, but God still used established habits to help me:
- My devotional app was easily available, offering me a helpful, joy-producing, biblical perspective in just a few short minutes. It got me into God’s word and re-oriented my thoughts.
- The texts came from friends who love us and pray for us regularly, and we for them. There was nothing unusual about how or what they were praying for us. God reminds me of his promises and the extraordinary depth of his love for us through these friends regularly, and especially when the tides rise in our family.
- I have read Psalm 71 many times over the years. The words are old and familiar to my soul, so they could speak with fresh power and relevance when I needed them in the hospital.
God means for us to prepare today for the day when anxiety and fear overwhelm our heart. We pursue and secure greater happiness, even in greater trials, with regular habits of Bible reading, prayer, and time in committed fellowship with other.
In the extraordinary moments of your life, when circumstances and suffering distract you from those habits, they will still serve you and remind you that God is for you in Christ, for your comfort and for his great glory.