World Rare Disease Day is here. And this year I’m feeling it, having recently gone through some health issues related to my own rare disorder.
Health issues are some of the most glaring reminders of our human frailty. Every illness, injury, or stressor highlights how delicately balanced our existence is. They hint at how little control we have and how much can go wrong.
Yet I’m starting to realize that there’s more to these “reminders” than first meets the ear. While these messages of weakness carry some truth and wisdom, they’re not the only words our hardships speak. And our response to them need not be fear.
If we listen, our setbacks—health-related or otherwise—remind us we’re not only weak but loved. In the midst of our hardship walks a God who cares for and about us and wants to draw near to us. And because we’re loved in the midst of our frailty, we can live well in the midst of our frailty.
You might read this and think, How does that work? Weakness makes me feel anything but loved or capable. Where is God’s love when life is overwhelming and out of control? And how can His love be enough to get me through that?
Here are three thoughts:
God asks and equips us for one day at a time
At one point in C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, the fictional demon Screwtape advises his nephew on making evil use of the uncertainties of wartime life. Not surprisingly, such dread and suspense offer plenty of opportunities for tempting and tormenting humans.
Screwtape observes that we humans often take it upon ourselves to mentally prepare for every problem and outcome we can imagine. We might even believe God expects such comprehensive fortitude.
Yet, in doing so, we more often than not succeed only in wearing ourselves out, And when that happens, we wonder why God isn’t helping.
The truth is, as Screwtape observes, that God never placed such responsibility on us. He never expects us to bear what might happen. He simply asks us—and equips us—to bear what is happening.
Yes, this present reality might include fear and uncertainty. In that case, He’ll help us bear them, just as He helps us bear pain, fatigue, grief, and other emotional and physical states.
But dreading something and actually going through it are two distinct experiences. We might never even have to experience the latter. And even if we do, that experience isn’t here yet.
Jesus tells us to leave tomorrow’s burdens alone. He teaches us to take up our daily cross and ask for our daily bread.
Yes, we can make plans and preparations. We can and should bring God all our requests, cares, and concerns.
But we’re to do so knowing that our success and well-being ultimately depend on Him. The course of our lives— our future as well as our present—are in His hands.
We’re to trust Him and leave them there.
God’s provision for His will is guaranteed
The Lord’s Prayer contains one line that sometimes leaves readers scratching their heads. The line asks God not to lead the petitioner into temptation to sin.
Over and over in the Bible, we’re told that God is holy. It’s not only impossible for Him to be drawn into sin; it’s also impossible for Him to tempt other people to sin.
Jesus, of all people, should know this. So why teach us to pray for something so obviously guaranteed?
Usually, when reading or praying this, I just remind myself how much I need help avoiding temptation, and move on. But the other night, I held on to that question, took a small step back, and looked at the verse in its context. And the thought struck me:
Is the rest of the Prayer not just as obviously guaranteed?
Is it not glaringly obvious that God will bring His kingdom to pass?
Is it nor glaringly obvious He’ll perform His will on His earth as He does in His heaven?
Is it nor glaringly obvious He’ll forgive penitent sinners who ask Him and mirror His mercy to their own debtors?
Is it not glaringly obvious He’ll give us our daily bread?
It should be. Yet sometimes we struggle to believe it.
No matter how many times the Bible promises provision or proclaims God’s unspeakable compassion, we hesitate. We count all the prayers He’s answered with “no”, all the hours we’ve spent feeling alone and afraid, all the battles we’ve lost. We start thinking of His compassion as a luxury—maybe even a lottery prize.
We’ll never have all we need to do whatever we want or plan. We might never even have all we need to do what we imagine God wants us to do or we ought to do.
But God never promised that. Instead, He promises to give us what we need to do what He actually wants.
Jesus taught that our needs will be met when we seek God’s kingdom and righteousness above all else. He promised new families and homes to people who had to give up theirs in order to follow Him. The apostle Paul assured the Philippian church that God would supply their needs as they worked to minister to others. He wrote famously that Christ’s strength enabled him to be content in scarcity and plenty alike.
Ultimately, what God wants is for us to know Him and walk with Him always. And wherever we are an d whatever we face, in Jesus, we can do that.
God’s love in Christ un-founds our deepest fears
The author of the biblical book of 1 John wrote that love casts out fear. We might take this to mean that our love for God and people fuels our courage to follow Him and serve others. And maybe suchlove does that. But a look at the context of this famous verse shows John is speaking of an even more powerful truth.
He’s talking about God’s love for us and our fear of God’s judgment.
We know, deep down, that we’ve earned that judgment. Our first ancestors sinned. All of us born since have inherited an innate bent for sin and live in a world riddled with sin’s consequences. And because God is holy and just, He can’t tolerate sin’s presence or leave sin unpunished forever. Nor will He.
We know it. However much we contest His authority or standards, we know our relationship with Him is fractured. And our first response, from the very beginning, has been fear. And rightly so.
And yet…God loves us. Not with a helpless, regretful love, but a love that can and does act. A love that did act.
“For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, CSB)
Unrepentant sinners can still expect God’s judgment. But sinners who repent of their sins and turn to Jesus will never experience it. Instead, they’ll experience the boundless, eternal presence and love of God.
No matter what hardships they face, God is with them. No matter what sins they commit, God can forgive them—and will, if they confess their sins. And He redeems all their hardships and failures so that nothing but good will come of them. And one day He’ll end sin and suffering forever and live with His people in a renewed world.
This news strips our fears of all their power. Why wouldn’t we approach a God who welcomes sinners? Why wouldn’t we abandon our sins for a God who sacrificed Himself for us? Why wouldn’t we seek pardon from a God who can and will forgive the penitent? Why wouldn’t we cling to a God who’ll be with us always? Why wouldn’t we endure and hope, knowing He’ll bring good out of everything?
Yet we try so hard to find objections. We want to believe this wonderful news…but we also wish we didn’t need it. And however we feel about it, we struggle to fathom a love so much deeper and vaster and purer and fuller and more powerful than our own. So we downsize it, or deny it exists.
Thankfully, God can forgive our distrust too. And the Holy Spirit, who dwells in Christ-followers and shapes us into Christ’s image, can perform the equally herculean task of transforming our grasp of who Christ is.
As Dane Ortlund observed, “The Christian life, from one angle, is the long journey of letting our natural assumption about who God is, over many decades, fall away, being slowly replaced with God’s own insistence on who he is. … The fall in Genesis 3 not only sent us into condemnation and exile. The fall also entrenched in our minds dark thoughts of God, thoughts that are only dug out over multiple exposures to the gospel over many years.”
So take heart in God’s heart for you. Return to the truth of who He is as often as you can, as often as you must, and let the foundations of fear slough away under His loving hand.
Take your stand on His good news: Jesus, the Son of God, died on the cross to atone for our sins, was buried, and was raised to life on the third day afterward. He appeared to His disciples, ascended to heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God the Father, where He intercedes and advocates for everyone who trusts in Him. He’ll return at the end of all things to renew the world to perfection, end sin and death, and establish God’s kingdom, where everyone who trusted in Him will live with Him forever.
Come to Jesus with your sins and hardships. Commit your past, present, and future to Him. Take up your cross and your bread each day. Trust Him to provide what you need to do His will. Embrace His love for you and let it flow through you to others.
Live like God loves you. Because He does, and always will.
Come to me [Jesus], all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.Matthew 11:28-30 (CSB)
Scripture quotations marked CSB have been taken from the Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible® and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.