“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”- 2 Cor.4:17-18
The afternoon storms brought blinding rain, blowing in gales of white sheets of water, tossing the canopy of the forest like waves upon the ocean. From my vantage point on the porch, the sounds of drops of water from that storm still find their path to the forest floor, one leaf after another; a continuous soothing sound of liquid falling in soft echoes. The remnants of the storm that had preceded this evenings chorus, the tumult long ago swept away by the currents in the sky, now are only a mere shadow of its former self. The fearful tempest had given way to the calming collections of water cascading from the treetops in a never-ending cycle of life. What once was a frightening scene had given way to one of peace.
Our lives can be much like this very scene; the incomprehensible tempest that eventually gives way to a calm in its wake. We try to wrap our minds around how out of control our lives can seem at one moment, and then within a few hours or days, it is as if nothing ever happened.
This past couple of weeks, my life has been very much like today’s thunderstorm; a physically debilitating illness so severe that there was no leaving the bed for several days for the sake of the pain. Then afterward, a slow, wayward climb back to normalcy; a calming effect of what life had once been; the new norm.
Sometimes our afflictions seem anything but light.
The fever that began a couple Saturdays ago was unusual in that there were no other signs of infection; no lymph nodes swollen, no rashes, nothing to indicate a cause. Everyone suggested Rocky Mountain Spotted fever, or even perhaps Lyme Disease. The doctors searched, one blood test after another; nothing gave any indications other than the obvious facts of white blood cell counts falling daily, and blood platelets disappearing faster than my weary body could produce them. Finally, the Oncologists provided insight as he stood before me with a medical chart in hand. Before he began, my thoughts flashed to my friend and brother in Christ, and the battle he still fights daily. Not long ago, that friend sat in an office much like the one I was in at the time and heard the heart-wrenching news of finding out he had Leukemia. He and his wife are always in my prayers, and Leukemia was something that had definitely been on my mind. So, as I sat there listening, the doctor was nearly giddy with the news, as he conveyed that my results did not indicate cancer. We both smiled. The bad news was that the illness was pointing to some type of insect-borne disease; the results of tests that would identify the source wouldn’t be available for several more weeks. What friends and family had suggested had yet to be ruled out. So, finally, with a prescription for an antibiotic, I went home and began to recover within 24 hours of the first dose. It had been a mere precaution from the Oncologists but proved to be precisely what was needed; as the Oncologist would say later, there definitely been some type of infection.
Tonight, as the calming sounds of the raindrops comfort my weary body, the thought of the verse in Corinthians makes more sense. The light afflictions of our daily lives, unlike those that Christ suffered for our sake, are mere stepping stones to what our Savior has waiting for us in eternity. Even the extreme fevers, which may only be for a moment in time, when compared with the extent of our earthly life, are just another trial through which we persevere. Sometimes we survive the tempest to reach the evening that follows of complicit temperatures and pleasant sounds of soothing raindrops softly falling in the forest. When we battle through the spiritual wars in our life, much like the ferocity of thunderstorms, we are left wondering if our boat will capsize and all will be lost. It is in these tempests that we learn to lean on Him.
Day after day, we must remind ourselves that we are not alone, nor does He want us to go it alone. As Paul wrote, “When I am weakest, it is then He, my God, is the strongest.” For myself, the most difficult part is remembering to lean on Him. So often we allow our human nature to take over, and we strive to “make it happen.” I hear friends tell me that they sometimes don’t think they can go another day, that their job is just too demanding, that the workload is more than they can bear. It is then that I ask, “Have you asked Him for help? Are you leaning on your Savior, or are you trying to do it all alone?” I know from my own perspective, I’m guilty of forgetting to ask Him for help and then finding out I’m once again trying to do it on my own.
The old gospel song, “Learning to Lean,” is a perfect example of how we must remind ourselves that we are not alone, and it is our Savior’s desire that we reach out to him and ask for help. What parent has not had their heart melt when a child reaches up to them with open and arms and asks, “Can you help me?” God, our Father, is the same; loving each of us unconditionally, regardless of our faults, our sins, and our past. We are forgiven. All we have to do is confess our sins and ask Him to come into our lives. With childlike faith, we must have a heart that is willing to lean on Him. We battle against powers, principalities, and dark forces that are not of this world, so why would you think you can do it by yourself?
As a teacher, you spend countless hours during the course of the school year, foregoing sleep, family, and often personal time for yourself. It is during the few weeks of the summer that teachers can catch up and find time for themselves. Unlike what I might have wanted or envisioned, this summer has been anything but relaxing. I’m not complaining, for it has been a season of growth; finding my walk with God becoming closer than ever before. It has been a time of finding a level of patience that heretofore I didn’t know existed. In the waiting, searching for the next door to open, I found a sense of peace within that was only possible because of the grace that God had provided.
Were there moments when the thought of no medical insurance, no job, and no hint of future employment would crash into my mind and mentally take my breath away?
Yes, of course.
Did I allow those thoughts to drown me in depression and sorrow, feeling pity for myself?
No, I didn’t.
Each time those fears surfaced, I remembered what the Word had taught me, and I would take a deep breath and feel the hand of God upon me. He builds a hedge of protection before and behind us in all that we do. The scripture says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” When we truly walk with our Savior each and every day, we learn to think of him being by our side. It is then that I have found that we find we are never alone. People look at the Retreat and are often impressed by the magnitude of a simple little building built by me; me a mere whisper of a man, barely 150lbs soaking wet. It is then that I remind them that I haven’t done it alone. Other than the occasional help from friends and my son, the majority of it was accomplished by just the two of us; God and me.
Now I know, and often when I say this, I can see the skeptical look of most people arise, as you might be thinking at this point. But let me give you just one moment when I learned early on that He was with me.
The floor of the foundation was covered with the first layer of plywood, and I had begun to put up the outer walls. Before starting to build them, I first engineered a system of cables, and pulleys such that I could use my tractor to help raise the enormous weight of a wall. At this point, I can most assuredly tell you that God had given me the insight on how to do this because alone, I would have never figured it out. But that’s not the testimony I wanted to share; that is yet to come.
Once everything was in place, I boldly built the first wall. It consisted of ten-foot-tall 2×6’s complete with a front door and two windows, all consisting of full headers above each. The headers alone probably weighed 300 lbs. When it was time to lift the wall, I attempted to wedge a crowbar under the top plate in order to put the chain around it. There was no budging it. Feeling defeated, I sat down on the far corner and viewed the monstrosity of workmanship.
“Would it have to be taken apart and done one piece at a time,” my mind questioned.
Then I remembered the most important part of all that I was doing: “I hadn’t asked God for help.”
At that moment, I went to Him in prayer, thanking him for all that we had done up to this point. There had been so many other times when He gave me strength, wisdom, and encouragement. Like never before, I needed him now. As my prayer was lifted up, there was that feeling of energy flowing through my weary limbs, as I had felt so many times before. I said “Amen,” and stood up, walked over to the wall and jammed the crowbar underneath the top plate, as I had attempted to do before, but now was successful. Quickly, I snaked the log chain around the top plate and then connected its hook around the other part of the chain.
It was ready to lift.
Once more, knowing what had just transpired, I asked God for his help in this, and that he help me get the wall standing before the end of the day.
A few minutes later, the twenty-foot long wall was standing at a 45-degree angle. It spanned the entire length of the front of the building. As I had learned in construction many years ago, I had placed braces to keep it up, even though the chain held it, but in my excitement, I had missed that the block and tackle had jammed into the chain at the top. There was no more the tractor and cable system could do. Now it was up to me to inch the wall up vertically using the two braces, each held in place by a single nail. It was at this point that with every breath I prayed. Every inch, the wall began to rise. Because the block and tackle were preventing the wall from going any further up, it had to be disconnected. Now, not only was there nearly a ton of wall looming over my head, but there was nothing to keep it from crashing down on me; nothing but the hand of God. Feverishly I worked, praying, sweating, and putting all that my small frame could humanly muster, all the while, the power of the Holy Spirit flowed through my veins.
Suddenly, before I knew it, she was standing tall.
I stepped back and looked. There before me, the entire twenty-foot wall stood perfectly in place, perfectly erect. The two braces were holding tight. To make sure it was finished, I walked over and took the level to make sure it was right.
It was perfectly level.
I leaned the level against the wall and stepped back.
“Amazing,” I breathed, “I can’t believe I did that,” I thought to myself.
Did you hear it? Did you hear when I once more allowed the natural man within, that fleshly part of our being that wants to take all the credit? It’s so easy to forget. But there is always an answer in the word for our stumbling blocks. James wrote, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”
Yet, for a split second, the natural man resurfaced and entered the self-gratification he so often seeks. In my haste, not only had I forgotten that “I” hadn’t done anything, but rather, God had done it through me. The verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me,” never rang so true at that moment. In my exuberance, the thrill of seeing what we had done together, I had forgotten to nail the braces to the floor to keep the wall from going any farther in the direction I had been pushing it.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a breeze stirred the top of the trees. My sweat-stained shirt felt the coolness, which was a relief in the autumn heat. The leaves swirled slightly at the foot of the building and then in horror, I watched as the wall eerily, like a slow-motion film, began to tilt the opposite direction. It quickly picked up the speed until it became a crescendo of crashing lumber falling off the front of the building, crashing into the tractor and support structures below.
The once impressive display of engineering was now a broken pile of wood and nails.
In that brief instant, I realized what the error of my ways. In my moment of self-elation, I had merely thought that it was “I” that had done something, rather than giving God the credit. In the blink of an eye, it was all taken away. The testimony at that moment was no longer about the success of the project, but rather, now it was about my failure; yes, my affliction.
How many times has something gone wrong in your life that you’ve had to start over? How many times has what seemed a disaster eventually became a blessing? Time and time again, what seemed to be a failure only allowed another door to open, and with it, something more precious and valuable arose. It is then the line in the verse, “our light affliction, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” comes into focus.
It took three days, and two more men to help me correct the disaster and to redo what God and I had done in just a few minutes. By reaching out to those other men for help, it allowed them to become part of the Retreat construction, and in so doing, also gave them the opportunity to feel God with us. From that point forward, the sharing of the labor of love began to grow, and many more would eventually come to help when time allowed.
In the end, what seemed a momentary affliction worked a greater glory, one that wasn’t visible from the start, but in the end, was something that would go deeper than the temporal; an eternal blessing. Once more, I learned to lean a little more on my Savior.
When the storms of this world crash into your life, hold on tight and pray. Yes, my friend, pray that God is with you. No matter how dark the night, no matter how painful the fever, there is always a dawning of a new day, and with it, the opportunity to rise from the ashes. There is no sin too great that God cannot forgive. Christ died for all men, even those who knew him not, so that we all, yes, all of us could have the hope of eternal salvation.
The tiny droplets continue to fall; one precious leaf after another until their weight gently caresses the forest floor. The mist begins to cover the lower reaches of the valleys below. From the mountain, the vastness of God’s creation exceeds our ability to comprehend, but for a moment, we can inhale the beauty for which we have been created.
Let not the evil of this world encircle you so tightly that there is no light from which you can reach too for help. The pain will pass, the storm will give way, and in its wake, a peaceful assurance will be waiting; your confirmation that God is with you, for now, and evermore.
Thanks be to God.