Sick Kids, Sovereign God

sickchildIn my book, sick kids always trump ministry or work.

On the days when I have a child come up sick, I know that whatever I was thinking I was supposed to do that day, I wasn’t.

We recently served with a group of high school students on an intergenerational mission trip to Honduras. Mid-week, my 15-year-old daughter became very sick. We had to miss out on that morning of ministry and an afternoon with a very special outing, and we were both very disappointed.

Several of the wisdom-seeking young girls had asked among the adults that week the question we all long to have answered, “How can we know God’s will for our lives?” Whether in choosing a college, or finding a husband, these girls were on a quest to know how to know what God wants them to do. The day my daughter was sick made for a good example of how God often uses the circumstances He allows into our life each day to show us His good, pleasing and perfect plan. For that day, my child was sick, and I needed to forego my ministry service role and fulfill my nurturing caregiver role with her.

Early in my motherhood journey, my mother said to me, “You’re only as happy as your saddest child.” And I think it has also gone like this: “You’re only as well as your sickest child.” A given mom-trait is empathy, the ability to share someone else’s (especially our child’s) feelings. When our children are sick, our hearts are broken, and we would rather take their place suffering than watch them suffer through.

Having a sick child is exhausting physically and emotionally, but are we able to see God’s hand in it? Are we able to sense His presence on those hard days? Are we able to tap His power for strength beyond ourselves? Are we able to trust that He is sovereign even over our child’s illness, whether it be acute or chronic?

In my not-so-theologically-equipped mind, I struggle to put my mind around the sovereignty of God, especially when it comes to the very difficult trials that come into our lives. A sick child is clearly one of those. And though this may be over-simplified, the question it comes down to for me is this: “Is He on His throne as King of kings and Lord of all the earth? Or is He not?”

Years ago a local youth group had a terrible tragedy on a weekend retreat. A pickup truck filled with sleeping bags and duffle bags was heading from the church to the home where one group of students was to spend the night. The students followed behind on the freeway, and all saw right away when one sleeping bag flew out of the pickup truck onto the freeway ahead of them. Apparently, they pulled over, and one student went out on the freeway to pick up the sleeping bag. Then, very tragically, the student was struck by an oncoming vehicle and killed.

I heard the senior pastor trying to offer counsel for the students and parents the following morning. And while it would be very difficult to know how to comfort those in the face of such a tragedy, I didn’t feel like his words went in the right direction. Some of the words he spoke were, “God didn’t plan this. This was not in His will. This is not what God wanted to happen here last night.”

Again, in my simple mind, it sounded to me like he was suggesting that God had taken a short break from His throne while the accident occurred. Which brings that question again, “Is He on His throne, or is He not?”

Remember the childhood song, “He’s got the whole world in His hands?” It gives me a picture of God as sovereign Creator of the universe, holding all of creation, especially man whom He created in His image, in His strong hands. If we are held within His strong hands, then only what He allows to come into our lives can get through to us. Whether He is the source of the difficulty, or if our sin, other sinners or Satan are the source, God allows it to come to us for a specific purpose that we may or may not ever know. We can know for certain, though, that His purpose is always to draw us closer into Himself, and shape us closer into the image of His Son Jesus Christ.

Does God know when my child is going to be sick?

Yes- He is omniscient, all-knowing. He knows everything about everyone.

Is God able to make my child well?

Yes- He is omnipotent, all-powerful. Whether He does or not, He has the power to.

Is God here to help me through this hard?

Yes- He is omnipresent, ever-present. And He draws near to the brokenhearted.

The gospels tell of us several parents whose children were sick. Where did they turn? They turned to Jesus. One father cried out to Jesus with a very simple, yet honest and profound prayer. “Help me overcome my unbelief!”

May we learn to trust God with our sick children. Whether our plan is interrupted for a day or for years, may He grant us greater faith to trust that He is sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent through it all.

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Hope Surrenders to God’s Will

HandsThough He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.  Job 13:15

Job surrendered to the will of God, even at the loss of his fortune, his family, and then his own health. His hope was in the God whose character He had known to be trustworthy for many years. He knew He could surrender to God’s will and God would prove faithful.  Job held on to God even in the hard. His example is a strong one for us as we try to hold on to hope in our own hard.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:2

Surrendering to God’s will begins in our minds, when we make a conscious choice to move from the world’s patterns to take hold of what He has for us instead. As that transformation happens, we are able to know God’s will for our lives. His “good, pleasing and perfect will” becomes clearer as we remove the old ways of thinking and “let this mind be in you which also is in Christ.” (Philippians 2:5) His Spirit makes His will known to us.

Many struggle with the idea of “God’s will.” If we are honest, we may ask questions like, “Was it God’s will for my child to get sick?” “Was it God’s will that she was born with this disability?”  “Did He will for my husband to leave us?” This can become a complex theological discussion that would take many pages. For our purposes, though, I think we start by asking the question “Is God sovereign?” Does the Creator reign over all His creation?  We can be sure from scripture, from history and from our own experience that He does. We can be sure that all power and glory and honor and praise belong to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Then as Job did, we can surrender to what He allows to come into our lives and trust His will to be best- for His glory and for our good.

The illustration I like best to help understand this is from the song, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” Picture God’s hands held together holding your life inside. As He protects and provides for you, any blessing or trial that comes your way must come through His hands first. What gets through to you has been allowed by Him, even if that be sin’s consequences or Satan’s schemes. And if He allows it through, it is according to His good, pleasing and perfect will.

We can be sure that God’s ultimate purpose is to glorify Himself as Lord of all. We have seen how that happens even in life’s most difficult circumstances. His presence, His power and His peace through our trials all bring honor to Him.

A second purpose we can be sure of is His will to conform His children to the image of Christ. “For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” (Romans 8:29). We can surrender to His sovereign hands allowing tests and trials to come our way to shape us into His image. As a potter pushes and prods his clay to conform to his beautiful plan, so does God push and prod His children to become more like His Son.

Jesus Christ demonstrated total surrender to God’s will through His death on the cross.  Knowing the great sacrifice of suffering He was near to enduring, He prayed this profound prayer.

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  Luke 22:42

The scripture goes on to tell us that an angel came to Him and “strengthened Him.” Then we learn how difficult that prayer of surrender was for Christ to pray:

And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.  Luke 22:44

If surrendering to God’s will was that painful for His Son, we can expect to struggle with it as well.  He understands the fight to surrender our own will for His. And He will be faithful to be near to help with the letting go. He knows that the letting go is the very best thing for us. He will give us faith to hold on for God’s good, pleasing and perfect will.

Because of Christ’s surrender, we can surrender to God’s will for our lives.