Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. ” Ex. 14:13
Discouragement – believe it or not – is an important teacher in our lives as disciples. We want to run away from it; quote verses to it; deny its existence. But like falls are inevitable when we learn to walk, discouragement is an important lesson as we learn to trust God. How? Why? Discouragement has the perfect way of kicking out the props that hold up our presumptions about God, life, relationships, paradigms of - everything. That’s not to say that our presumptions are wrong, per se – it just means that they need to be matured. God uses discouragement to bring into focus the picture of our perception.
Strike One: The e-mail
On Monday, we arrived in Houston with the covid-19 screws really beginning to be turned tighter. But we were upbeat because everything was in order for the beginning of my chemotherapy regimen to begin. It was time for the beginning of the end of Timmy the Tumor! Then came the e-mail while we were at DFW: Mr. Lee, your insurance has not given us a preapproval for your therapy to begin; It is likely this will not be approved by your health plan in time for your scheduled appointment … Frantic calls were made. The hours trickle by. No one had definitive answers for us. Brenda speaks wisdom: “We’ve come this far – who knows how bad the pandemic might get? Let’s see what happens.”
Tuesday comes – and things are not looking good. I was meeting with the Infusion Therapist – the one who would install my PICC line. “Mr. Lee, it’s strange: we’re authorized to install your PICC line, but we can’t do anything with it afterwards. If I were you, I’d wait until everything is in order.” Sadly, I agree. He talks about a few more things when my insurance company calls: “You’re approved!” “GREAT!” I literally tell him: “God may cut it short, but he’s always on time!” Praise you, Father; way to go God, I think! The PICC line is installed!
Strike Two: Insufficient Funds
Still enthused by the news, I go see my attending oncologist, just prior to my first cycle of treatment. “Well, there is a problem,” Dr. Neelapu says. “Your insurance is putting a hold on one component of your therapy.” I smile knowingly: “You must not have gotten the latest,” I say, “I just got green light – just call this person … !” Apparently it’s not green enough. We are stopped, again – and now I’ve got a central venous catheter in me that I have to care for and be cautious with. Elation screeches to a halt with deflation.
Perhaps this has happened to you, too? Our presumptions get tested in the crucible of disappointment and testing to extract a purity of heart? We don’t want it. We didn’t ask for it. And we’re caught: God is under no obligation to explain – and he doesn’t need to apologize. Perhaps there was a presumption on my heart: God is very fond of me! He is very fond of the people pleading for me and agrees in their cause! Look at how he’s provided and produced so far? Surely God is on my side?
But here’s the thing: I’ve never met a mature, seasoned Believer who did not go through a severe testing. It may have been dashed hopes, severe hardship or soul-crushing loss. Some more severe than others, but they would say something like: “I thought I knew God – I’m not sure anymore,” or “the heavens were as iron as I heard nothing from God,” or “I’ve prayed and prayed; I’ve searched the scriptures looking for a Word from God. Nothing.” Sometimes it was very dark: depression, lack of joy, the inability to sing, the loss of joy in ministry. The 16th century Spanish monk St. John of the Cross said described these times in the pilgrim’s journey as going through “a dark night of the soul.”
The Crucible of Purity
For me, Tuesday the lights went out. Don’t get me wrong: the sun was never blotted out – but it was a blow. Wednesday was a hard day of no answer and lots of frustrating calls. We heard nothing from the parties that needed to cooperate for my benefit. Thursday morning, I had several conversations with insurance as they were trying to understand the situation better. “I’ll do my best, but you should probably think hard about going home until this is resolved.” By this time the United States covid-19 situation was getting precipitously worse. Over a thousand deaths. Panic was gripping each state. We don’t know when we could get back. Each day the tumor grows, its tendrils seeking fresh opportunity.
Now, hang-on: what of that verse above? If you’re unfamiliar, you need to reread the story of the Passover and the Exodus (especially as we are in Lenten season in Exodus 1-14 – If you’re a disciple, this is your spiritual heritage. Read it again.). Basically, through pestilence and plague, God convinces Pharoah that it’s not worth it to keep the Israelites as slaves. But then he changes his mind and goes aver them. But here’s the real plan: God always meant for them to be caught in this peculiar way – to reveal his Glory. Because here’s the truth: who else can God reveal his glory through except through chosen and willing vessels?. The Israelites needed to find out that Yahweh, the Great I Am, the great sign-revealer, the great plague-maker, the great pestilence-producer, the terrible first-born destroyer … could also be the Great Way-Maker.
Thursday morning, a good friend sent me a video of a song – that honestly was not a favorite of mine – called “Waymaker”. But there is a “bridge” in the song that simply declares:
Even when I don't see it, you're workin' Even when I don't feel it, you're workin' You never stop, you never stop workin' You never stop, Jesus
It was like Jesus was sifting me – finding the truth: Sean: do you believe that? If your throat keeps getting tighter with tumor or they deny you funds or they delay therapy, do you believe I’m working – even if you can’t see it? You said you would trust me – that I could borrow your body. What will you choose to do?
Ray Edmond succinctly expressed our path this way: “Never doubt in the dark what God has told you in the light.” In order for God to reveal his glory, there has to be a test. And only people can be tested. The test always has the potential for long, deep, crushing, unsatisfying discouragement. It is the reality that life cannot be safe – it never was. Discouragement can be the teacher that proves to us that the cold water of reality can never nullify His love or His purpose. It may turn out to be better than we can ask or imagine. It may not. But as Robert Morgan put it: “The same God that brought you to it is the same God who will bring you through it.”
For me, it was another phone call that changed the direction and velocity pleasantly. That very Thursday afternoon, the call came in: I’ve been approved for everything I need with plenty of time to get it done. Friday was a long day of infusion that started at 7:00 am and I walked out at 5:30, but still hooked up to a pump that was to be metered out in a 24-hour interval. At this writing, my problems with the chemotherapy have been few and very manageable. I am reminded, however by the looks of a lot of very sick people around me, that I am very, very fortunate, indeed. I must be careful, but my future looks good – even in the midst of the world’s worst health-care crisis in recent history.
I know that some of your stories are much harder. I wouldn’t dare draw a comparison.
But I want to close with this: Do you know how the Saints of God are described by God in their conquering of the enemy?
They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. (Revelation 12:11)
Do you trust God to write your story anointed by the blood of the Lamb. Why else do we exist? What greater privilege is there? You only have one life to give – why not trust Him with it’s best expression?