David Letterman made top ten lists popular. His dry wit made his top ten lists very funny and popular. Dave isn’t on TV anymore, so I want to provide my own top ten list. In fact, I’m going to give you two top ten lists: One positive and One negative. Today, here is a list of ten POSITIVE things my disorder has taught me. Tomorrow, we’ll get negative.
- Love of family.
This truth cuts two ways: I love my family more than ever, and they have shown me the utmost love. A few years ago, when my health began to fail in serious ways, I woke up every morning not knowing if I would live through the day or not, my heart was beating far too fast and I wasn’t sure if the elephant in my chest signaled a heart attack or not. During those weeks, before the Prinzmetal’s angina (vasospasms) was diagnosed, when I got out of bed, I wasn’t sure I’d be alive to get back in it that evening. Sometimes I would think about my family, sometimes I would worry about how my two young sons would handle Daddy’s death — I worried that I’d never see those boy graduate high school or hold my grandchildren. At times like that, to quote Tim McGraw, you want to “live like you were dying.” You know how precious each moment with family is.
I’ve also seen how much my family loves me. My boys can hardly pass me without giving Poppa a hug or at least a pat on the arm. My wife has dragged me to innumerable doctor appointments, and has held my hand during unpleasant exams and tests. Mom and Dad selflessly carted me around at Polishing the Pulpit. To be honest, I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the ways my family — wife, children, parents, brothers, and in-laws — have served me.
Yeah, some might look at me and think I have every reason to despair: I cannot move without great pain, I can no longer work as a full time preacher, and I take medications which have horrendous side effects. But, God’s blessings can be seen in every circumstance.
So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.
God’s blessings are plenteous. I have a family who loves me. I have a church which supports me. I have friends who call to let me know they’re praying for me. I now have excellent physicians who try to alleviate my symptoms. I do not have a terminal disease. I live in the United States where health care is the envy of the world. Yes, I have so many reasons to count my blessings.
- Prayer is powerful.
Nope, God hasn’t answered all my prayers as I would have liked: I’ve prayed for a cure, I’ve prayed for less pain, I’ve prayed for the ability to carry on my ministry, and God has told me no over and over and over. Someone might question why I’d still have faith in God and why I’d still pray after God has rejected my prayers over and over. I mean no offense, but only the most foolish would ask such a question. “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Heb 5:7). Wait just a minute! You mean to tell me that Jesus prayed to God to be saved from death and the Lord was heard even though he died that excruciatingly painful death on the cross? Exactly.
We do not pray to Santa Claus; we pray to the Creator. God knows more than we. God has more power than we. If Jesus was heard because of his reverence and God still told him no, tell me who do you think you are that God needs to answer every single prayer of yours positively? Go on and tell me!
Prayer doesn’t work like that. Prayer changes us. Prayer teaches us that we do not have all the answers. Prayer reminds us that we do not run the universe. Prayer professes that we need One greater than we ourselves.
- The people of God are great.
In an earlier post, I mentioned the ways I’m treated far better when with the people of God than with the people of the world. Yet, my brothers and sisters continue to bless me in so many ways. Prayers offered for me both in public and in private. Offers of help, and following through on those offers when I ask. Picking up my boys from so I can get to the doctor. My church family continues to show me how much they love me and how much they wish to be like Jesus.
- You can inspire others.
I hate to make myself sound like a hero, for I am far, far from one. Yet, so many have told me that my strength and determination in facing my struggles have inspired them: My refusal to quit, my openness about my struggles, and my firm and unshakable faith in God has led many to tell me that their faith and determination have grown; others have told me that they are seeking help because of my openness. No, I’m no hero, but I pray that God can use me in any and every circumstance.
- Some things are more important than other things.
Jesus said some things are more important than others when he scolded the scribes and Pharisees for tithing “mint and dill and cumin” while neglecting “the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt 23:23). I fail sometimes, but I try to not get bogged down in arguments that won’t matter in five years (and some of them won’t matter in five minutes!). My wife and my children are moving toward eternity; the four of us are a home, and, thankfully, we have a house in which to put that home. My parents and siblings and my in-laws have a new meaning as I learn that some things are far more important than others. I’ve made some serious mistakes over the years, but my disorder has brought important things into view.
- Heaven is more real.
I love my family dearly. I love the beauty of the Roanoke Valley where God has blessed me to live. I love working in the Lord’s Kingdom. I love the Dale Ridge church (we’re looking for a good preacher, by the way). There are so many things in this life I dearly love.
However, I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I longed for heaven in a new way. I want a new body like is promised in the resurrection. I want a body which will move easily. I want a body that isn’t in pain. I want every tear wiped from my eye. I want to see Jesus. I want to gather with my loved ones around the throne of God. Oh, how I long for that glorious day!
- Jesus’ suffering takes on new meaning.
I’ve known all my life that Jesus suffered at Golgotha because of my sinfulness (I have a Doctor of Ministry, and a guy who has a doctoral degree in a theological field should know that Jesus died for my sinfulness, right?) Yet, each week at the Lord’s Supper as I reflect on the suffering of my Lord, my own suffering comes into clearer focus. He suffered far greater than I could ever imagine, because — although he had done nothing wrong — he needed to ransom me from my sins. That is pain! That is suffering!
- God is a great comforter.
God provides great comfort in even the darkest night. I know that he loves me. I know that he hears my prayers. I know that he will comfort, protect, guide, and help me. I know that he has an eternal home prepared for me. I am cradled in comfort in God’s hands.
your talents differently.
Matthew 25 teaches us unmistakably that God expects us to use our talents. He has given me many talents to use in his kingdom. My limitations have now required that I give up full time preaching; this has been one of the most painful realizations and times in my life. I love preaching. I love helping people move closer to God. I love seeing the look on people’s faces as they see Scripture in a new light.
I can no longer handle the demands of full time ministry, so say my doctors (in fact, the consensus is that I don’t need to be working any kind of full-time job). Yet, that does not mean that I cannot serve. I have more time to write and bring people closer to God through the written word. I have more time to pray (is there any better way to serve others than praying for them?). I have more time to spend with my family and help to shape them into the likeness of Jesus.
Simply because one door has shut, does not mean that God cannot use me or that my talents need to be buried. To the contrary, I need to find new ways to serve my God.
Tomorrow, if the Lord so wills, I will discuss some negative lessons I have learned in my health struggles.
Are there any positive lessons I’ve left out? Which positive lessons have blessed you the most in your walk with Jesus?
I know that he will walk with you as he has walked with me.