How to Find Your Heart

How to Find Your Heart

Matthew 10:1-10

Dr. Jim Denison

This past Tuesday, amid much ceremony and tradition, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI. I wish my experiences in church work could be so dignified.

I should have known pastoral ministry was not all pomp and circumstance in my first pastorate, on the Sunday when a scorpion which crawled inside my wading boots as I was preparing to baptize. And the time the baptism waters were freezing cold, but the 6’7″ candidate insisted on being baptized anyway; I got his face under water, then he grabbed me and dragged me under with him. We counted two baptisms that night.

There was the staff member in First Baptist Church in Midland who wore his lapel microphone into the restroom, and the entire sound system was on. He was the same beloved friend who dressed for Sunday morning, checked on his horses, then walked through the church building making sure all was ready. Only when he reached the platform for the service to begin did we realize that he had brought his horses with him. The carpets were cleaned that week.

And of course, there was the infamous Saturday afternoon at Park Cities when I climbed up to the fifth-floor bell tower room to see if it would work as a prayer room, without my cell phone; the door locked behind me, with no keyhole on my side. I finally used a two-by-four to break out the window in the door, and carefully reached my key through and let myself out. Otherwise I’d still be up there. I was so grateful to the staff member who heard the story the next week and asked, “Who left the two-by-four in the room?”

Some mistakes in church work are worse than others. Today we’re going to examine the worst mistake in all of Christian history, and the most subtle. This mistake has robbed millions of Christians of the joy Jesus gives, the direction his Father provides, the purpose and power of his Spirit. Let’s see if it has affected your life:

Do you feel that you are accomplishing all you were made to do in life, or is something missing?

Do you consistently seek opportunities to serve the Lord and his people, or do you more typically wait to be asked to serve?

Who was the last person you led to faith in Christ? The last person whose faith was strengthened significantly because of your direct influence on his or her life?

Do you experience each day the satisfaction of knowing that you are walking in the Spirit’s power and purpose?

The mistake we’ll discuss today has kept millions of Christians on the sidelines of significance. It has kept many of you from the life God wants you to live, from the direction and purpose he made you to experience. If you don’t understand the tragedy of this mistake, that’s all the more evidence for its damage.

My goal today is simple, and ambitious: I want us to repent of this sin, this tragic mistake, once and for all. I want us to put it to rest, now and for the rest of our lives. I want us to settle the matter this morning.

Why members don’t minister

Jesus’ last words before his ascension are familiar to us all: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). “You” is plural, commissioning them all.

These first Christians took his word seriously: at Pentecost, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4).

At this early point, everybody knew that ministry was for all members, that every one of us is equally called by God to serve and grow his Kingdom.

But over the coming generations, things changed.

As their movement grew beyond its Jewish boundaries, pagan heresies began infiltrating its theology. So the church decided to confine theology to the theologians, ministry to the ministers. Around AD 250, Cyprian of Carthage coined the word “clergy,” meaning the “called-out.” He separated them from the “laity,” from the Greek word laos for “people.” When Constantine legalized the church in the next century, a massive building campaign ensued. Now the clergy had a place to work and do their ministry. Over time they moved into those buildings and made them monasteries.

From then till now there’s the unstated supposition in the church: if you don’t work here, you’re not a real minister. I can work on old cars, but since I don’t work at a mechanic’s shop I’m not a real mechanic. You’re not a real football player unless you play on the team–throwing the ball in the street doesn’t count. You’re not a real economist unless that’s your living. Ministry is the work of ministers.

So it’s your job to support those of us who do this for a living. Come to church, give financially, do what we ask you to do, but leave the real ministry to the ministers. Leave surgery to the surgeons, law to the lawyers, and ministry to the ministers. Ministry is not your job.

The second fact explains the first: you don’t know how.

As “clergy” grew, so did vocational training for their work, now called “seminaries.” Doctors read medical books, but the rest of us don’t. I didn’t study before my knee surgery, and learn to do the procedure. I trust those who know more than me.

If you’re in a court of law, it’s best that you let the lawyers talk. If someone here today stops breathing, it’s best that you find someone who knows CPR to help. Otherwise you might make things worse.

You don’t know Greek and Hebrew; you haven’t been to seminary; you’re not called to do this as your vocational work. This is what you pay us for. You do what volunteers do–teach Sunday school, sing in the choir, work on committees. But leave the heavy lifting of ministry to the ministers. That’s the “clergy lie.”

When we buy into the clergy lie, what are the results for the church? About what you’d expect.

Imagine a Baylor Health Care System where Joel Allison, the CEO, is the only person allowed to treat a patient. Imagine a government where President Bush is the only person permitted to negotiate legislation. Imagine a Baylor women’s basketball team where Kim Mulkey-Robertson is the only person allowed to touch a basketball.

Is it any wonder that 85 percent of America’s churches are plateaued or declining, that only one percent of church growth is by conversion? That Islam is America’s fastest-growing religion? That 114,000 people living within three miles of our church are in no worship service this morning?

What are the personal results for you? The purpose Jesus assigned every Christian remains unfulfilled in your life. Your spiritual gifts lie dormant. You miss the thrill of being used for eternity. You lose reward in that eternity. And the Church is kept from reaching the world.

The clergy lie keeps your salt in the saltshaker, where it can do no good. It keeps your light under the basket, where it cannot threaten the darkness. The clergy lie is the enemy’s greatest single strategy against the Great Commission, and his most effective.

How are we to respond?

A theology of member ministry

Let’s ask some questions of Matthew 10. First, are you called? Does God intend you to be involved in changing lives for his glory? (v. 1).

The same Holy Spirit indwells us all–he does the work of life change, not us. And he can work as fully through you as through me. You belong to him just as much as I do. Any qualified citizen can run for office. Any of you with resources can invest in the stock market. Any of you can serve the Lord, as he gifts and leads you.

Second, are you sent? “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel” (vs. 5-6).

Not because Jesus did not care for Gentiles–God so loved the “world” that he gave his only begotten Son for us all (John 3:16). The reason is that these men were not yet equipped for such work themselves. Not until Peter’s vision in Acts 10 did the Jewish Christians understand that contact with the Gentile world was acceptable and even desired by their Lord.

He has set you up for success, not failure. There is no place he will send you, no work to which he will call you, except that for which he has prepared you. Does he have a place for you?

Third, do you have a message? “As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near'” (v. 7). Announce that the King has come, and invite people into his kingdom. Find your own way to tell people that truth. Tell them how you came to follow him, and invite them to join you. And they will.

Study his word, listen to his Spirit, and then know that he will give you what to say. I love it when people thank me for truth I don’t remember saying.

Fourth, do you have a ministry? “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons” (v. 8). If you are faithful, God will use you to change lives. He will show you what to do, if you will do anything he asks.

Last, will he take care of you? “Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep” (vs. 9-10). In other words, the Lord will provide for your needs, as you follow him by faith. He didn’t bring you this far to leave you. His will never leads where his grace cannot sustain.


We are focusing this spring on being committed daily to the Holy Spirit’s leading and power. This morning’s discussion is crucial to that larger theme. If you won’t breathe out, you cannot breathe in. If you won’t give, your hand cannot receive. If you won’t serve, you cannot know the Spirit’s power, since that power is given for service.

The key to your spiritual joy is giving joy to others.

Two stories prove my point, and I’m done.

I have recently become good friends with a man who’s been attending our Men’s Bible Study. My dear friend last week went through a horrible surgery for tongue cancer. Before his surgery, we talked and prayed together. He told me that he wanted God to use his life and even this trauma for his glory, to make his life significant.

I saw him after the surgery, and we talked about all the people who knew his story, who were telling others what God was doing through his life, his illness, and his faith. My friend could not yet speak, so he pointed to letters on a poster held by his wife. They spelled out, “I’ve started my significance.” And he gave me a thumbs-up. He was right.

A group of our men went to Cuba recently to expand our ongoing ministry on the island. The night before they returned, they met with a house church in Havana, twelve or so believers crammed into a very small room. Jeff Byrd, our associate pastor for missions, told the Cubans that we come to their island because we have left a part of our hearts with them and must return often to retrieve it. Then Jeff asked one of the men on the trip to share his testimony. The man’s eyes filled with tears as he told the assembled Cuban Christians, “Jeff may have left his heart in Cuba, but I have found mine here.”

Have you found your heart yet?

Making Peace with Your Past

Making Peace with Your Past

Matthew 9:9-13

Dr. Jim Denison

We’re discussing today the topic, “making peace with your past.” There’s apparently a lot of past to make peace with.

For instance, this week’s New York Times reports on the growth of the armored car industry. Car makers are producing vehicles with windows two inches thick, armor plating, gun storage, and smoke machines to obscure the car during gun battles. They are all the rage right now. One manufacturer said, “One-third of the people who buy these cars are under threat, one-third think they are under threat, and one-third want to be in the first two categories.” Armor-plating your car is one way to deal with your past.

No one is immune from the issue.

John Bolton’s nomination for ambassador to the United Nations was attacked this week by an associate who criticized Mr. Bolton’s past dealings with subordinates.

Officials at the National Health Institutes are being accused of sexual harassment spanning the last several years.

Last Sunday, two Florida families opened fire on each other, part of a long-running feud. When a girl from one family began dating a boy from the other, the battle began. Two people are hospitalized. The past can be deadly in the present.

What about your past are you most grateful we don’t know today? What about your past most bothers you this morning? There is an authentic, transforming way to make peace with your past. Let’s discover it together.

Give your guilt to God’s grace

Our text describes the call of “a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth” (v. 9). It seems appropriate for us to meet a tax-collector on the Sunday after April 15. But IRS agents and tax preparers today bear no similarity to Matthew’s profession.

In the first century, tax collecting was the most profane and immoral work a man could do, akin to prostitution for a woman. The Empire employed locals to take money from their neighbors, sending a portion on to Rome and keeping the rest for themselves. Even Roman writers considered these turncoats and traitors to be destined for hell (cf. Cicero, De Officiis 1.42; Lucian, Menippus II).

Matthew’s sins were on public display in Capernaum, the fishing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee which served as Jesus’ ministry headquarters. To invite such a man into his movement was unwise at best. But Jesus said to him, “Follow me,” and Matthew did. After this notorious man gathered his equally notorious friends for a party with his new Master, the self-respecting Pharisees asked why Jesus would eat with such “sinners.” His reply: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (v. 13). That’s good news for us all.

God’s word is clear:

The Lord “forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:3).

Micah asks, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sins and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18-19).

David, a man who knew something about sin and forgiveness, rejoiced in this fact: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). In fact, God promises, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25).

Now, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Confession does not earn his grace–it positions us to receive it.

Our holy God can forgive us because in his Son “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7). Sin separates us from our perfect God; the consequence of this separation is death. Jesus’ sinless death fulfilled this consequence, paying this debt, so that God can be holy and just in forgiving us. Such is the grace of God.

By contrast, our society is built on works. Materialism–the belief that the material is the ultimate reality–has been at the very heart of our culture from its beginning. Success is quantifiable. The more you do, the more a success you are. If you fail, you’re a failure. You are how you perform. Isn’t that true of every dimension of your life–work, academics, sports, music? Performance equals success. Past crimes cannot be forgiven, only punished.

Even if others won’t punish us, we’ll punish ourselves. We inflict guilt on ourselves until we think we’ve paid enough penalty for our sins. For some of us, such self-inflicted guilt has plagued us for years. But you need to know that guilt is not of God. He forgives and forgets, no matter who you are or what you’ve done.

You may have seen this week’s news report from the World Health Organization, announcing that nearly 5,000 labs in 18 countries were mailed samples of the Asian flu virus, a strain which killed between one and four million people 50 years ago. The labs are urged to incinerate the samples immediately.

The sins of your past can be incinerated in the furnace of God’s passionate love for you, before they infect your soul and poison your life. You don’t have to pay for them–Jesus already has. You don’t have to work them off, doing time in the jailhouse of guilt. Today you can give your guilt to his grace. Name that failure or sin which most troubles your conscience. Confess it specifically to your Father. Ask his forgiveness, and trust him to keep his word. Know that the One who loved Matthew, loves you. Give your guilt to his grace, this morning.

Give your soul to his Spirit

Matthew hears Jesus’ call, and gives his life to it. He “got up” from his tax-collector’s booth and “followed him” (Matthew 9:9). He exchanged his old life for the new, his previous failures for God’s future. So can we.

The “exchanged life” is a theological term which refers to the decision by which we trade our sin nature for Jesus’ holiness. The process is sometimes called “sanctification.” The key phrase is Ephesians 5:19, “be filled with the Spirit.” The process works like this.

First, we receive Christ as Lord. Then his Spirit takes up permanent residence in our lives.

Now we ask God to forgive all that is wrong in our lives, trusting our guilt to his grace. The “Holy” Spirit can bless and control only that which is holy.

Next, we submit our lives, minds, words, attitudes, and actions to him. “Filled” means “controlled” or “under the influence of.” We place ourselves at his disposal, as the possessions of our Creator and Master. We ask the Spirit to take control of us. Unconditionally, without reservation, holding nothing back. We give him a blank check for this day.

And we believe by faith that he has. Nowhere does the Bible tell us how it feels to be filled with the Spirit, to exchange the old life for the new, to be controlled by the Spirit of Jesus. It takes as much faith to believe that you are filled with the Spirit as it did to believe that you are the child of God.

Next to your salvation, this is the most crucial decision of your life. The Good Shepherd can lead only those sheep who will follow him. The Great Physician can heal only those patients who will let him. The Holy Spirit can empower only those who are joined to him. It’s not enough to believe in electricity–you must consciously, intentionally connect to it. A battery won’t start your car if the cables are unattached or corroded. If your car is out of gas, sitting at a filling station does you no good. You have to put gas in the tank.

We live in a culture which measures churches by attendance and buildings. God measures us by disciples, by changed lives. When last did worship, Bible study, prayer, and service change you? When last did the Holy Spirit empower you, fill you with joy, and make you more like Jesus? That was the last time God’s purpose was met in your life.

It comes down to control. Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, said recently that we can organize the church for control or for growth, but not for both. The same is true of our lives. We can stay in control of our lives, and seek safety, security, and predictability. Or we can turn control of our lives over to God, and experience growth, joy, peace, purpose, and power. The issue faces us in every morning, every decision, every significant event. Will you exchange your life for God’s, your control for his, your will for his purpose? Will you give your soul to his Spirit?

For every person used by God like Matthew, there is this exchange, the decision to leave your tax-collecting booth for his call, to trade the old for the new, to give your soul to his Spirit, to let him drive the car and run the business, to sell out to him and let the chips fall. Have you come to this place of surrender yet?


Here’s the result of such a commitment. Matthew’s friends, products of his notorious sin, came to Christ. Matthew’s stenographic skills, essential to a tax collector, recorded the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew’s ministry produced the first Gospel we find in the New Testament, the first section of God’s word I ever read. God used his problems for a much larger purpose. Know that the Father will do the same with you.

People who have lost a child are the best to comfort those facing such horrible grief. Those who have been through divorce are best able to walk with those experiencing that terrible pain. A person who has lost his job is the best encourager for those who lose theirs.

Give your guilt to God’s grace and your soul to his Spirit, then look for people to help. Look for people who are where you were, people whose problems you understand, whose pain you have felt. Become a wounded healer, the very best kind.

When my father died, the person who helped me most was a fellow college student named Linda Sharp. She could help me because she had lost her father that same year. She put her arm around me and said, “Time helps,” and I believed her. I still do.

If you’re hurting, look for a Linda Sharp. If you’ve been hurt, become a Linda Sharp.

The College of Cardinals will assemble in the Sistine Chapel, under the ceiling decorations of Michelangelo, to begin the process of selecting the next pope. Here’s the process: 120 electors, all 79 years of age or younger, will submit written votes. If one of their number does not receive a two-thirds majority, the ballots are mixed with a chemical which gives off black smoke, and burned. Then the world will know that no pope has been elected. If the cardinals fail to elect a pope by the two-thirds margin within three days, voting will be suspended for a maximum of one day to allow prayer, reflection, and conversation. 21 more votes can then be taken; if no pope has been selected by the two-thirds requirement, a simple majority will decide the next pontiff.

God’s process in choosing his next Matthew is much simpler. If you’re a sinner, you qualify. This is the promise, and the grace, of God.

When God Lets You Down

When God Lets You Down

Matthew 8:1-17

Dr. Jim Denison

Ed Diener, a University of Illinois psychologist, has news which may be bad or good, depending on your point of view. He compared the overall happiness and well-being of the billionaires and millionaires on the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans, and the Maasai herdsmen in East Africa, and found no significant difference. It seems that $40,000 a year is the threshold. Once you’re making that amount, no increase in income will increase your happiness. Life is more than green paper.

By any standard, our congregation and community would be considered affluent. But let me ask you: where has life disappointed you recently? Where was money not enough? Where are you dealing with unhappiness, discouragement, frustration and pain today? Why has God allowed you to hurt?

Our text tells us that God heals and helps his people. Our problem is, why doesn’t he always? What do we do when he lets us down? You’re Terry Schiavo’s parents keeping vigil outside her hospice, praying for intervention which does not come. Why not? I think of my father’s death; dear friends in our church who were not healed; difficulties and pain along the way. I prayed, but God didn’t work as I wanted him to. Why not? What do we do then? Why be committed daily to a God who lets us down?

Wrong answers

Limit God’s power.

The first character in today’s story is a leper. There were several skin diseases classified as “leprosy” in the ancient world. The most common was Hansen’s disease, a disorder which affects the skin and nervous system. Over time the person loses the ability to feel his fingers or toes. He wears them off, bloodies them, infects them. And they simply rot and die.

The disease was incurable until the late 1940s, certainly an impossible disease to treat in the first century. At least, for everyone but Jesus. He touched this untouchable man and healed him. If he could heal leprosy, he can heal any disease, anybody, any problem. The wrong answer is to limit God’s power.

Limit God’s love.

Our second character in the story is an even more unlikely candidate for a miracle from a Jewish rabbi. He was a Gentile, considered by the Jews to exist only so there would be firewood in hell. And he was a “centurion,” a Roman military officer in charge of 100 soldiers. Part of the force occupying and enslaving their land. Part of the army which forced them to pay exorbitant taxes to Rome, and subjected them to pagan, idolatrous oppression.

Imagine an impoverished Jewish rabbi helping a Gestapo officer, and you’ll have the picture. But Jesus answers his prayer and heals his servant, to the shock of the incredulous crowd of hostile Jews. The wrong answer is to limit God’s love.

Blame the person suffering.

Now a third person enters the story. Peter’s mother-in-law is so sick that she cannot get out of bed. But Jesus heals her so fully that her strength is instantly restored and she makes them all a meal.

There is no indication of any sin on her part, anything wrong which she has done. We live in a fallen world, where disease and disaster are inevitable. Some suffering is our fault, as with an alcoholic with liver disease. But the wrong answer is always to blame the persons suffering. We often make their pain worse.

Blame the will of God.

Now the demoniacs take their places in the story. As best we can tell, Satan and his demons are fallen angels. They steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10), seeking to devour (1 Peter 5:8). They are looking for people they can control and malice they can cause.

And we have the freedom to let them. God created us to love him; love is a choice before it is anything else; if we misuse our choice, sin and suffering result. These demoniacs in some way participated in their plight, gave control of themselves to evil. And now they are paying a horrible price.

So we discover a fourth wrong answer to suffering: it is always the perfect will of God. The Lord is sovereign, so everything that happens must occur by his will. It is therefore his will, his choice, his fault that you must endure this pain, heartbreak, setback. It must be part of his will for this to occur. We blame the coach when he calls the wrong play and our team loses. We blame the boss when his business plan fails. So we’re entitled to blame God whenever bad things come our way.

But not everything that happens occurs by the perfect will of God. He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9); he wants all of us to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). And yet not all are saved. Some misuse their freedom and choose to reject the saving love of the Father. When this occurs, they experience not his perfect will but his permissive will. All that happens comes by his permission, but not all by his perfect plan. We are fallen people in this fallen world. It is a wrong solution to blame always the will of God.

Right approaches

So what are we to do when it doesn’t seem that God has answered the prayer we prayed, that he didn’t heal when we asked his help, when our leprosy did not get better, the servant did not recover, the mother-in-law died, the demoniacs were not healed?

Judge the dark by the light.

The leper and the centurion both called Jesus “Lord,” as they should. The word translates “kurios,” and was used of Caesar, kings, owners, those in control. Jesus is Lord. And he didn’t change when my father died, or my friend committed suicide, or my hero was fired. He is still on his throne. He is still Lord.

What do we know about God? He is love; he is the creator of the universe; he does not want any of us to perish; he gave his Son to die for us. Remember what Jesus has already done for you. Think about the ways he has already proven his love for you. His Son endured crucifixion, a form of execution so horrific it is outlawed all over the world today, just for you. He has forgiven every failure you have ever confessed to him, and will continue to do so. He knows every sin you’ve ever committed, and what’s more, he sees every sin you will ever commit in the future. But he loves you anyway. He likes you. He finds joy in you even as you read these words.

Think of all the ways he has already blessed you. Does your family love you? So many are trapped in loveless, abusive homes. Has he provided for your material needs through physical abilities and vocational opportunities? So many are trapped in endless poverty. Has he given you the privilege of life in America’s freedom? Who of us earned the right to be born in this country and not in Iraq or North Korea?

Remember his grace in your life, and judge the dark by the light. I’ll never forget a seminary student of mine named Walter. The year his wife and several children died, his pastor called every day to say, “Walter, God is still on his throne.” Then Walter told our class, “God is still on his throne.” Judge the dark by the light.

Understand that his ways are higher than ours.

The leper has it right: “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” But God’s will and ways are not always clear to us: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8, 9).

Joseph didn’t understand why he was enslaved in Egypt. Moses didn’t understand why he had to spend 40 years in the desert. Joshua didn’t understand the flooded Jordan River and fortified city of Jericho; Daniel didn’t understand the lion’s den, or Paul his thorn in the flesh, or John his Patmos prison. But we do.

Trust God to give you what you ask or something better.

Here we come to one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith. When we prayed for something God did not grant, we can know that it was best that he acted as he did. Even when we do not understand why. The person did not get well. The house burned down; the divorce became final; the car wreck happened. It’s not a question of timing, for the worst has already occurred. And we do not understand why God did not grant us our prayer.

A very dear friend in our congregation suffered from cancer for many months. I prayed every day for her healing. When she died at a young age, I was deeply distraught. Her healing would have brought such glory to God and good to her family. I didn’t understand, and still don’t.

Dr. E. K. Bailey was the Senior Pastor of Concord Missionary Baptist Church here in Dallas, and one of the finest ministers of the gospel I have ever known. Our friendship was priceless to my soul. His preaching at Park Cities will be remembered always. Several times, God healed my dear friend of cancer. Then he did not. I still don’t understand why.

I must assume that it was not best for them to be healed. They are both with the Father in glory, in a paradise we cannot begin to imagine. One second on the other side of death, they were glad they were in glory. In the providence of God, their contribution to his Kingdom on earth must have been completed, their reward prepared, their eternity made ready. Even though I don’t understand or like it.

That’s the faith assumption I must make when God does not grant what I ask–he is doing something even better. Though my finite, fallen mind cannot begin to imagine how that could be so, I must trust his love and compassion enough to accept it by faith. Not until I became a father did I understand some of the things my father said and did. Not until we are in glory will we understand completely our Father’s will and ways (1 Corinthians 13:12). When we cannot see his hand, we can trust his heart.


Sometimes Jesus heals us physically. But sometimes he works an even greater miracle–he heals us spiritually. He gives us the strength and spirit and courage to bear up under life’s sufferings. Sometimes he removes the pain, and sometimes he does the even greater work of giving us the strength to endure it. Either is a miracle of the Lord.

In such times, God’s greater miracle is to enable us to withstand such horrific pain and loss. He can heal our bodies, and what’s more, he can heal our souls. Which do you need him to do for you today?

Consider the example of Larry Nixon, a veteran Baptist pastor who suffered from chronic heart disease. He finally died from his illness in October of 1996. Larry struggled to reconcile his call to ministry with the limitations placed on him by his damaged heart. He trusted the will of God, even when he did not understand it. He trusted the promises and protection of God, even when they seemed to fail him. And he found the answer to his dilemma in a poem he often quoted:

When God wants to drill a man,

And thrill a man,

And skill a man,

When God wants to mold a man

To play the noblest part;

When he yearns with all His heart

To create so great and bold a man

That all the world shall be amazed,

Watch His methods, watch His ways!

How He ruthlessly perfects

Whom He royally elects!

How He hammers him and hurts him

And with mighty blows converts him

Into trial shapes of clay

Which only God understands;

While his tortured heart is crying

And he lifts beseeching hands!

How he bends but never breaks

When His good he undertakes.

How He uses whom He chooses,

And with every purpose fuses him;

By every act induces him

To try His splendor out.

God knows what He is about.

And that is enough.