The saddest memorial service I ever attended was for a young, Christian man who died in his 20s from cancer. The church was filled that day to capacity with friends and family who loved "John," an incredibly gifted worship leader, and had prayed for him as he battled this great enemy...and prayed with faith. Now, here they sat in a room together, stunned that God had not answered their prayers. Blame had to be placed somewhere. The grief and, let's call it what it was, anger in the room that morning was chilling to all who entered. From the moment I walked in the door, I knew something more than John had died. It wasn't until John's friend, the youth minister of the church, began to talk that it became evident just what had taken the blows. This young youth minister started his eulogy speaking these words through tears: "When I get to heaven I am going to have some words with John. Why did you give up? Why did you lose faith?" The angry, grief-filled words poured out of his broken heart and spread throughout the audience dousing any small flicker of hope or joy. The pastor of John's church finally came to the pulpit and tried to bring some truth...to remind us that John was now with the Lord...no more pain, no more tears. We heard him, but the cloud that had settled over the observers of this service and what they thought would be a time of remembering John and celebrating the life he did have, could not be lifted easily.
Nearly twenty years ago now, Brent Rue, the pastor of the Desert Vineyard Church, was stricken with cancer. Once again a church found itself praying with practically every breath for the healing of their pastor. And we believed God could heal him. We had prayer meeting after prayer meeting and people from around the globe were praying right along with us...in faith for Brent's healing. And then the morning came when the news hit that Brent had died. I will never forget that very next Sunday as a reeling congregation of believers tried to come to terms with the loss of our beloved pastor. I overheard a man speaking to a group of people that "We had failed Brent. We had not prayed hard enough. We had not had enough faith." I was stunned. Had this man attended the prayer meetings throughout the months...corporate and personal? Had he seen the stream of church leaders come through, each praying earnestly for Brent? If healing had to do with amount or the fervency of prayer, Brent would be alive today. That I do know.
Blame death on the one who died. Blame death on those who did not pray "enough." Blame has to go somewhere because the alternative is too hard to think about: That God did not want to heal. The anger over death has to land on someone. As I think on this I am not so sure some anger over death isn't appropriate and natural. Something inside of us knows without a doubt that it just wasn't supposed to be like this. Those who we have known and loved so well can't just be here one moment and gone the next. Their presence was too real, too strong, too alive.
So what do we do with these conflicting truths: God can heal, but death is a reality. Beth said these words in our study this week: "When we cry out, our God hears whether or not He heals. Something greater must be at stake. Something we may not know until we see Him."
And then there is Susi and Hannah, who I introduced you to at the beginning of this study. Susi and her family prayed with tenacious love and faith for years to see the healing of their Hannah. They watched as God answered some prayers and seemingly, not others and in the end, Leukemia won. Or did it? How many have come to know Jesus through the testimony of this young girl and her family? Only our God knows. How many have learned there can by joy and peace in the midst of suffering through the example of this family and have turned to the Supplier of joy and peace? How many have been blessed? How often God glorified through their story of His unending grace? That does not sound like defeat or death to me. Their myriad and constant prayers were answered. It just did not look the way they thought it would. Susi and her family know that they will not live forever. They know that this life is but a moment and soon they will see their Hannah once again...and they look forward to that day.
Here and now as we walk this planet we do what we can do..."LIVE LIFE WITH GOD." We live in fragile containers...every one of us. We need to pray for each other's healing or continued health with all the faith within us. We need to love extravagantly, give extravagantly, pray extravagantly, and accept God's perfect will with extravagant faith, knowing that our hope is not so much for this world as it is for home...our real home.
Some weeks back there was mention of how people asked requests of Jesus while He was living and walking on the earth. I found it intriguing that they simply came to him and said things like: "Your friend, Lazarus, is sick." or "There is no more wine." And then He did what He did. No dictating of what should be done, just a statement of need. I have thought and thought on this and it has changed my prayer life. So often I have prayed prayers that tell God what I want Him to do and then when it doesn't happen, I am disappointed that He did not answer my prayers. Maybe He answered the prayer I should have prayed.
Heavy subject, my friends. But worthy of our thought and understanding. We are called to be people of faith, to pray for ourselves and others, and believe that our God is at work whatever the outcome. I know there are those who would see this as a "cop out:" If God doesn't heal that it wasn't His plan. So easy to say at sorrowing bedsides and memorial services. But it is only a "cop out" if Heaven isn't real and the death of a saint can't be used for good even after their body is gone. I believe both of these to be absolute truth. I may not have seen the first yet, but I have certainly seen the later many, many times.
James tells us: "Therefore confess your sin to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." This half brother of Jesus speaks right to the heart of the matter...you want your prayers to be powerful and effective? Confess your sins and live lives of that are righteous before God and man.
So what are your thoughts, my friends?
Love to you...