When toddlers fall down and skin their knees, they cry out to their mothers for comfort. Teenagers learn to rely upon both family and friends for their moral support. Those of us who are following Christ find our support team has also grown to include a spiritual family that is ready to weep with us when we weep. But what about those times when we’re called to fly a solo mission or the depth of our grief is too great for another human being to fully understand, where do we turn for our comfort and support? Some of us turn to comfort foods like chocolate chip cookies, pizza, and ice cream in times of stress. But they only serve to expand our waistlines and multiply the problems we have to solve.
But there is a better food that is able to satisfy our emptiness and soothe our emotional pain. That food is the Living Presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who said, ““I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35) The hunger and thirst to which He referred is not physical; it’s an inner hollowness which nothing in life is able to fill. So that’s why Jesus came. He said He was sent to “heal the broken-hearted” and “set at liberty those who are oppressed.” (Luke 4:18) What tool does He use to effect this miracle? His presence is power enough! For in His presence is “fullness of joy” and at His right hand are “pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:10-11) The more pertinent question is: What do we do to enjoy the comfort of His presence? Psalm 46 again supplies the answer. In verse 2, the Psalmist told us not to fear. Now in verse 10 he says:
“Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth! The Lord of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge.”
Isn’t that good of God? Instead of straining to gain a sense of His presence, we’re told to slow down, be still, and let His Spirit minister to our hearts. Psalm 131 expands on this truth describing the childlike spirit that opens the door to His presence: “My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.” The truth is we never outgrow our need for Jesus to pick us up and comfort us. For neither age nor wisdom nor maturity is able to shield us from life’s heartaches. We must therefore remain childlike in our dependence on God, welcoming the soul-soothing presence of His Holy Spirit.
I’ll never forget the first time I learned to lean on this truth. It was the middle of November when we noticed our daughter, Heidi, just four years old at the time, going to the bathroom every 15 minutes around the clock. First, we consulted her pediatrician, and when he was unable to help, I took her to the urologist who asked me, “Have you felt her tummy lately?” “No,” I said. “What’s wrong?” He explained, “She has a large mass right here inside her abdomen.” So the next day, the day before Thanksgiving, we took her to the hospital to undergo a CT scan. The initial diagnosis: “She has a large inoperable tumor in her abdomen.” We didn’t have a very happy Thanksgiving that year. On Friday we drove her back to the hospital for a needle biopsy. It had snowed more than a foot on Thanksgiving, increasing to the coldness of the experience and stress of the trip. Even more devastating was the report. The verdict came back: “Malignant.”
This was without question the most frightening experience Cheryl and I had ever faced, because we were certain that we were going to lose our little girl. I recall plowing through the snow on our way home that day, tears rolling down my cheeks, and Heidi sitting in the backseat, singing a new song she’d learned: “Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? The big bad wolf? The big bad wolf?” Cheryl looked at me, and I looked at Cheryl, both of us screaming on the inside, “We are! We’re terrified right now.” Heidi then went on to ask us questions like, “Mommy, Daddy, what’s it like to die? Do you just lie in a hole in the ground forever?” We, of course, comforted her with the promises of heaven and the fact that God was able to heal her and make her well. But it wasn’t until later that night that something happened to lift the terror I was feeling.
After Heidi went to sleep, Cheryl and I knelt down by her bed and asked God to send an angel to touch her body and make her well. Then we did something we hadn’t done since she was born. We rededicated her to God transferring the care of our little girl into His trustworthy hands. And guess what! From that moment on, all the way through her operation and recovery, I had perfect peace that she was going to be OK. And she was! We found a surgeon at Children’s Hospital in Seattle who was able to remove the tumor, which took two hours instead of the anticipated seven. And when the final biopsy came back, it indicated that all of the grapefruit-sized tumor, except for its core, had turned benign. And 26 years later, Heidi is still OK, joyfully serving the Lord whom she loves with all her heart. The only evidence she had cancer is a faint scar on her abdomen.
God was gracious to us in sparing Heidi’s life. But even if He’d chosen to take her home to heaven earlier than we wanted, I’m convinced that He would have given us His peace and comforted us in our loss. Why am I convinced of that? Because of Psalm 46:11, “The Lord of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge.”
Why not apply that remedy to the trouble you’re facing? That debt. That health issue. That loved one you’re worried about. How do you get victory in these trials? By drawing near to God through simple childlike faith in His Son. He gives comfort in sorrow, peace in place of panic, and stillness in a time of storm. For He “is our refuge and strength, a very present Help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.” Instead, what will we do? Be still and know that He is God, so that “He will be exalted among the nations. He will be exalted in the earth.”
(Next time – God’s Presence: Strength in Temptation & Assurance in Worship)