This is a reprint of a blog I wrote several years ago:
I’m sitting in our kitchen on the morning of Friday the 20th of February, 2015, and it is 3 degrees Fahrenheit outside. The heating fellow came two days ago and inspected our unit. He went to work immediately and the part should be here by this weekend.
Yes, it’s true. On the coldest February week in over a hundred years in Tennessee, our entire heating unit broke down. Oh, no, this didn’t happen in October or November when the weather was playing about in the forties or even in December when we were being teased with just-freezing temps in the mid-thirties. Nope. It’s this week.
It’s about five-thirty in the morning. I am sitting next to an open oven on full-blast as I type this entry, and blankets are draped over the entryways to doorless rooms we will not use until it gets warmer; we’re corralling the heat into the most necessary rooms. My wife and child are in bedrooms with space heaters churning like mad. Through the last two nights I have stumbled out of bed every two hours to go and check on all of the faucets throughout the house, making sure they are dripping and we don’t have a water pipe burst. (On the right is a sign my wife Jill posted in our hallway to remind ourselves of the various faucets to monitor through the Nights of the Arctic Freeze.)
And we are laughing about it. Jill, who suffers from the weaknesses of fibro myalgia, has taken on this whole trial like it was a vacation at a Minnesota wilderness lodge. Two nights ago at a few minutes after midnight, the electricity failed in our entire section of town. This had the potential for danger; I hustled the family members out of their beds and into the main living room in front of our small but determined fireplace while attaching more blankets over doorways. My ten-year old Julianne spent the night snoozing on the sofa under sleeping bags; she called it “the greatest night ever.” At first I questioned whether the chill had frozen their sanity, but I soon saw that this was sort of comical. Sort of.
The temperatures are finally climbing, slowly but surely. I am breathing a sigh of relief and realizing that we’ve been through a pretty stiff challenge and hey, it’s brought us closer together. I am thankful that we didn’t lose heart during this challenge. In a way, this whole event has been funny.
But some Christian people aren’t laughing about their trials, and I cannot blame them.
In North Carolina I went to the home of a sixtyish Believer who spent virtually every waking hour taking care of her once-active, world-travelling husband who was now in the final stages of Alzheimer’s, merely staring at the ceiling and clutching a stuffed bear so his fingernails wouldn’t dig into his palms.
In Arizona I was introduced to a gentleman whose arthritic condition worsened year by year, slowly developing him into a hunchback. His head was literally below his shoulders as he walked.
In Tennessee I shared coffee with a Christian family who were reeling from their son’s defiant walk away from the faith into a world of meth and atheism. His law-breaking activities were a weekly event, and he was openly unrepentant.
In my class halls I walked with a senior who had lost his teen sister to a horrible car accident. Her death was immediate – he never got to say goodbye.
On and on.
Let’s talk about good, fine Christians who face trials. Long, drawn out tests. Why would God put His children through such trying ordeals? Let me refer to the incidents I just mentioned.
One point that I observed is that each one had an amazing trust in God. With every one of the above incidents, I went away deeply moved by the powerful faith emanating from each person under trial. It was as if their faith and trust in Christ were an illumination to the room. They weren’t flippant by any means, nor were they in an emotive, giddy mindset about a cartoon Heaven with marshmallow clouds. These people were facing the grit and pain of a world with hurt and sadness… on a daily basis.
These people, though, had Christ in their sights. That’s the most accurate way I can tell you. They kept Him in their vision and relied on His hope to carry them. They talked about Jesus and His strength, glorifying God and so help me, every time I met them they seemed to have been getting stronger since my last visit. You might say that they had a consistent Heavenly vision.
That brings the second point – that the world had very little appeal to them. Their trial had soured the taste of this world. Not that this world became unreal; it had lost its temporal pull on them. They knew the glory ahead, so they continued on in faith. Amazing stuff – it reminds me of the fourth chapter of 2 Corinthians, “We do not lose heart, even though our outer man is decaying, our inner man is being renewed day by day, for momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”
Many, many times I have seen monstrous faith out of Christians who undergo the backbreaking long-term strain of a tragedy or trial. What kind of faith am I talking about? A true and vivid faith of an eternal reward in the life to come. Paul was explaining that each of his sufferings was gaining for him an eternal weight of glory. He was unflinching when it came to the world’s grasp. He lost the taste for the temporal.
“We look not at the things which are seen but at the things which are not seen, the things which are seen are temporal, the things which are not seen are eternal.”
Verse seven calls our bodies “vessels of clay.” Verse eleven says we’re wearing “mortal flesh.” Pretty descriptive. Spot-on accurate.
Paul knew what he was talking about when he mentioned trials. Check out chapter eleven. Paul was robbed. He was shipwrecked. He was whipped. He was imprisoned. He was beaten. He took on stonings, drowning, and ordeals in the desert. These things just intensified his vision for God and His glory.
When I was in South Dakota I met Carl, a Christian who owned a construction business. When he was climbing down in a digging in order to inspect a pipeline, the five-foot trench collapsed on him. Workers frantically tried to dig him out with shovels but realized they were losing precious time; Carl couldn’t breathe underneath that avalanche of dirt. In desperation a construction worker drove a trench digger to the mound and used the gigantic metal claw to start scooping up yards of dirt. He was taking a guess as to how close he could place the metallic arm before he took a scoop, but he didn’t have time to be overly careful. He was able to get the claw to dig a hole right next to Carl’s face, but in the rush to save his life, the worker had actually torn off Carl’s right arm at the shoulder. The doctors were able to reattach the arm, but Carl would never be able to do any sort of physical work after that. His life was one of pain medication and physical therapy.
But oh, was this man’s faith powerful. His continuing trial brought him into a rich and deep devotion to God that stunned me. I sat up most of the night at his kitchen table hearing this man praise the Lord in quiet and deeply moving rhetoric.
Carl talked of his desire for heaven and, until then, his daily ministry here on Earth. He shared the power of the tenth chapter of the second Corinthians letter in its description of ridding ourselves of imaginations that lead us away from God and His glory, and letting our thoughts become focused on Christ. I glanced at his arm, an arm that would never be used properly. He caught my stare.
“I used to say that I’d give my right arm to have peace in my heart,” he smiled at me, patting it. “Well, I actually did.”
I almost choked at the unexpected joke.
“And you know?” he continued. “It was – and is – worth it.”