We anxiously await the daily text update. The longer it takes, the more our imaginations pull our minds to places we’re trying to avoid. When the text finally comes, it’s always a long, difficult, and confusing read. Too much wrong; too many things to watch; too many potential dangers.
Yesterday the doctor said it seems we’re taking one step forward and two steps back. Not exactly the update that makes breathing easier and the weight in your chest lighter.
It’s been two weeks. The hospitalization was sudden. The cascade of symptoms staggering. We still don’t know the originating cause. The doctors are fighting the symptoms of the moment. There are few organs that aren’t affected. Doctors are scrambling, families are praying.
Prognosis? At best, a month in ICU; dialysis for the rest of his life (kidneys no longer working), and he’ll be diabetic (pancreas is dead/dying). That’s the best-case scenario. We’re praying for a miracle. We’re praying for his life.
This isn’t his first life threatening medical situation. It’s his third. Reye’s Syndrome when he was a young teenager had him in a medically induced coma with others squeezing his breathing pump. Cancer in his twenties put him through chemo and radiation. Now he lies in a hospital bed again, the symphony of beeps and buzzes from the machines and monitors around him playing a heartbreaking melody.
Please God. Why?
The same doctor that said it feels like one step forward, two steps back has also said that we trust God first and do what medicine can second. It’s encouraging to have a doctor who shares our faith but trusting God can be difficult. How do you trust God when things seem out of control?
Our boats can be rocked on the waves of many kinds of storms. We have fragile bodies that are merely one opportunity for life to knock us for a loop. Our minds, emotions, relationships, jobs, living situations and so many other areas of life can be tossed back and forth by the unexpected winds that blow.
If we are followers of Jesus, we know that God is with us in the storm, and that is meant to offer comfort. And it does, if we believe that God is in control. We comfort ourselves with reminders of God’s care and love for us. We remind ourselves that God watches the sparrows and numbers the hairs of our heads (Matt. 10:29-31).
A Picture of Trust
There’s a story in the Old Testament, in the book of Daniel, that illustrates what complete trust in God looks like. Ok, there are many stories that illustrate trust in God, but this one from Daniel has an explicit element that sets it apart from the others.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Maybe you know the story. It’s in Daniel 3 if you want to read it.
In short, these three Jewish men were in trouble for not bowing down to a statue of the king—they were captives in a foreign land; this wasn’t their king.
The punishment for not bowing down to worship the statue was to be thrown into a furnace and burned alive.
Some of the king’s men ratted out Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to the king and the confrontation ensued. The king ranted and raved at the three men and ordered that they bow down to the statue of gold he had created (it was a 90 foot tall gold statue of himself) or immediately be thrown into the fiery furnace.
Even if God Doesn’t . . .
They refused. Their response is what is perhaps one of the clearest pictures of trusting God in hard times:
King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 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. (Daniel 3:16-18 Emphasis Added).
They trusted God. They knew God could save them, but also that he might not. That’s trust. An acknowledgement that God has the power to do what it is we ask and hope for, accompanied by a humble acceptance that God may not do it.
In the story God shows up in a big way. The king was so mad at the response that he ordered the furnace stoked to 7 times its normal heat! It was so hot that it killed the soldiers who threw them in. But when they looked in, the king saw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego alive and walking around! And a fourth man was there with them.
Perhaps needless to say the king was speechless. He called the men out of the furnace and praised their God.
The God of the Sparrows
Jesus talks about this same idea, of trusting God even though we may not get the thing we are trusting God for. Jesus was sending the disciples on a mission of healing and casting out demons. He tells them that there will be opposition but not to be afraid.
Jesus reminds the disciples that even sparrows (so numerous that they can be sold two for a penny or 5 for two pennies—pretty much making any individual sparrow insignificant) are looked after by God in heaven. Jesus says that even though they are insignificant not one of them will fall to the ground outside the Father’s care (see Matt. 10:29 and Luke 12:6). He then reminds the disciples that God knows even the hairs on their heads are numbered and known by God and that they are worth more than many sparrows.
This is indeed comforting. But there is a part that reminds me of the three Jewish men standing before the king, trusting that God can do, even if he doesn’t. It’s that little part about the sparrows falling to the ground.
It’s tempting to read over that part and focus on the care and concern of God. A part that is equally important. But we need to acknowledge that though God cares about the sparrows, they still may fall.
Trusting God, means trusting whether we fly or we fall.