The Apostle Peter writes in 1 Pt 5,
“6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on Him because he cares for you.”
In the midst of deep and profound grief at the temporary departure of my dear wife last Tuesday night, 17th May, whose body finally succumbed to ravaging cancer, God’s care has been manifest in so many ways – to myself; our family; our church community at Deep Creek Anglican. Let me give one illustration.
Each year I aim to have at least a five-week preaching series from the Psalms – for either one or all of the three congregations at Deep Creek. It was mid-way through last year that I read the following review of Talking Back to God. The book’s thrust really caught my attention; I purchased a copy and then there it sat on my ‘future reading’ shelf.
A suitable bone marrow donor was identified for Sheryl in July last year and from August on, life became intense with Sheryl’s pre-transplant procedures and then hospitalisation for one month. Sheryl survived the critical first 100 days post transplant and during this time I gave more thought and prayer to the preaching program for 2011.
As I looked at the flow of the new year, I felt led to follow the Kingdom Living series with a Psalms series, Talking Back to God. I penciled this in for five weeks but did not at that time decide on which particular psalms to use.
Through January 2011, Sheryl was recovering well from the bone marrow transplant however three melanomas appeared on her upper body. Not a good development. They were removed and the clear post-surgery cat scan seemed positive. Within weeks however Sheryl developed a very bad limp and pain on her left side.
Church-life was hectic in the run-up to Easter and one item that needed to be finalised was the preaching program post Easter. I flicked through Talking Back to God with my open Bible and selected five psalms, with Ps 23 planned for Sunday, May 22nd under the title, ‘Talking Back to God: From Weakness to Strength.’
Sheryl’s condition continued to worsen and on Tuesday, 12th April she was admitted again to hospital. Within 10 hours, a cat scan revealed extensive cancer in her bones. She was confined to a wheelchair and the prognosis, from a medical perspective, was very bleak.
Sheryl was able to join us on hospital day leave on Sundays for corporate worship, including Easter Sunday. We began the Talking Back to God series on 8th May, in the midst of both personal, family and church grieving over Sheryl’s health. What a blessing! The psalms speak so powerfully into all contexts, and the joys and sorrows of life. The Lord used them powerfully to minister into our church community.
Sheryl passed into the Lord’s glorious presence last Tuesday night, only hours after surgery intended to improve her mobility. Although I had had many years to prepare for her passing; notwithstanding her resolute faith in, and love for, the Lord; the grief in the immediate days following was overwhelming. Probably contributed by so much health trauma over the last decade.
Did God care? Most certainly. I decided to attend each of our three services on Sunday, but not to participate up-front. James Duff spoke from Ps 23 – and the Lord’s gracious, comforting, soothing ministry through the Word and His Spirit was awesome.
Was this a coincidence that last Sunday with our family grieving; the church community grieving; that the Lord cared for His people with the words of Ps 23? A skeptic would say, ‘Yes, a coincidence.’
But I know differently. I have seen the Lord’s gracious hand in my own life; in the family’s life; in the church’s life, innumerable times over the years. But last Sunday was something to always be remembered. Tears were streaming down my face as James preached – tears of loss (temporary yes, but still very real loss); tears of thankfulness for God’s grace in saving Sheryl; tears of thankfulness for her gentle gospel witness to me during those many years of my stubborn resistance to the love of God in Jesus; tears of thankfulness for God’s sustaining grace in her life, through enormous trials of suffering; tears of joy and thankfulness for the Lord’s awesome love for His church, that He would so superintend that Ps 23 would be our focus on that Sunday of deep grief.
Does God care? Yes, the Shepherd cares so deeply for His broken world that He laid down His life.
Praise You, Father for Your love.
Praise You, Jesus for Your death and resurrection.
Praise You, Holy Spirit, for Your Word and ministry into hearts and lives.