Friday, February 17, 2012

Desert days

I'm going to pause again in my going through Peter's list of how to be ready for Jesus and just ask some questions for you (and me) to think about.

Is your heart heavy? Do you feel like you're just trudging through your days? Or maybe you just feel kind of dead inside - spiritually dry, emotionally empty? Do you spend too much time trying not to think about the things in your life that hurt? Does God feel far away? Do your prayers feel like they're just bouncing off the sky?

I think I mentioned right at the beginning of this blog that my father was burned to death this past fall. I'm never going to be OK with that, but I would have had to be blind not to see how every aspect of that terrible time was orchestrated by God. My parents would have been married 53 years this Valentine's Day - and yet, as he lay there the first night in the hospital, my mother still didn't know what he believed.

I loved my father very, very much - but in all honesty, he was a stubborn, self-righteous man who thought he knew all the answers. He had grown up in the Christan Science church, and he never really left that behind. When I realized that, I wrote him a letter, to share the true Gospel and the truth about Christian Science, but I never knew whether he actually read it or not.

When I wrote that letter, I was desperately afraid that if my father died, I would have to stand next to my daddy's grave believing him to probably be in hell. But, thanks to God's great mercy and grace, my father believed before he died. It took until the very, very end. In fact, I guess he had to have a taste of the flames of hell. 

My father was welding on October 5, when his clothes caught on fire. By the time he could get the flames out, it was much, much too late. He had third degree burns over most of his body. I didn't know what happened – just to get to the Burn Center at UW Hospital in Madison as fast as I could. It took several hours to get there, and they let me in to say good-bye almost immediately, because they didn't expect him to live through the night. He looked at me, and said, “I love you, Jacqui. I'm going to miss you.” and then he slipped back into the morphine sleep.

After we had all said good-bye, they started cleaning up his burns, which took all the rest of the night. All that long night, my mother talked about him, and their marriage and how she still didn't know what he believed. In the morning, they let us in to be with him without restriction. We all knew (he knew, too) that he was dying. That first day, he was able to respond to questions. They'd ask him if he was in pain, and he'd say, “Not right now.”

From then until he died, we shared Jesus with him. We shared the Gospel, over and over, in all different ways. We prayed out loud; we read the Bible to him; we sang hymns to him. He lived for nearly three full days, when he was expected to die in a couple of hours. He waited for my brother from New Mexico to get there.

I told my dad about Jesus and what He had done for us. I shared everything I knew about heaven. Towards the end, a pastor who actually understood what it means to be saved (the hospital chaplains are very kind men, but until then, not one of them understood salvation but assumed that everyone goes to heaven) stopped in to visit with us. At that point, it was me and my husband, and one of my brothers who was there. My father was not responding any more. My brother held my father's unburned hand and I had my hand on his unburned shoulder (really the only two places we could touch him that hadn't been burned). The pastor asked, “Where is your father, spiritually?” I answered, “Well, we have shared the Gospel with him over and over. I have prayed for years for his salvation. I know that it is God's will that he be saved, and I have asked repeatedly in Jesus' name that he be saved, so we are trusting and believing that he believes.”

As soon as I said that, my brother said, “Hey, he just squeezed my hand!” So, then, I said it right to my father, “Daz, DO you believe?” and he squeezed my brother's hand again.

So, I guess it took a taste of hell's flames to put my father in the right frame of mind to listen – and then days to lay there and think about it. And, with absolutely nothing to lose and eternity to gain, I was bold to share God's truth over and over again. Laying in that hospital bed, wrapped in bandages, my dad couldn't get away from me even if he wanted to! And, so he heard and he listened, and glory to God – he believed!!

So much of my father's passing was a miracle. Even the staff there at the hospital believed it could be nothing but God who caused him to wait days for my brother to get there. The nurses told me they were all talking about it. His vital signs were all dropping, dropping. But, when I told him my brother was only six hours away and could he hold on a little longer, all of them went right back up to normal. The nurse came running in, exclaiming, “What just happened in here?”

Finally, on Saturday morning, I kissed him on his head and said, “Daddy, I'll never be ready to say good-bye, but it's just going to be for a little while. We'll all be with you soon. Go be with Jesus now,” and in just a couple of minutes, he did just that.

I had said many times during those days that it would just be a little while until we were all together forever. I know my family believed that I was just talking about our lifetimes as being just a little while. And, in light of eternity, that is absolutely true. However, I really did mean “just a little while.”

What's troubling to me, personally, is that while I absolutely believe that Jesus is coming soon - really soon - my heart is still heavy. I'm grieving my father's passing, still, even though it was obviously arranged by God to save him. I'm grieving my daughters' absence from my daily life, even though I wouldn't have it any other way. They need to be out there, becoming the women God intends them to be. I'm grieving my work life, which is very, very stressful right now. I have to pray my way into going each day.

So, the truth, is that all the while I'm here, writing to you about getting ready for Jesus - about being daily in God's word, about spending time in prayer - about connecting in a real way to your creator - I, myself, am running on empty. I, myself, am failing to do what I am telling you to do. Funny, huh?

Yesterday, I read something that really hit home with me. It was about finding God again when you are spiritually dry and empty. If I can find it online, I will post it for you. Basically, it was the account of a man - a well known preacher - who was going through a desert time. He had a contest with his will and his emotions. His emotions didn't want to connect with God, because they were telling him that God was far away, not listening, and that praying and studying God's word was pointless. But, he determined by his will that he would pray anyway - that he would study anyway. And, that if his emotions ran contrary to that, he would ignore them. And so he did. It seems like it might have taken a long time, but eventually, his emotions caught up with his will - and then, once again, God felt close and dear.

What he learned is that emotions lie. They tell us that God is not near, not listening. Nothing could be further from the truth. I must, once again, relearn the truth from Psalm 42: I will yet praise Him!!!!

Psalm 42

1 As the deer pants for streams of water,
   so my soul pants for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
   When can I go and meet with God?
3 My tears have been my food
   day and night,
while men say to me all day long,
   “Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember
   as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go with the multitude,
   leading the procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
   among the festive throng.
 5 Why are you downcast, O my soul?
   Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
   for I will yet praise him,
   my Savior and 6 my God. 

One of my posts was on this subject, and I wrote a whole study on it (Trusting God in a Night Season). So, you'd think I'd learn, wouldn't you? Still, God knows where I'm at, and what He wants for me and for you:

Psalm 139

 1 O LORD, you have searched me
   and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
   you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
   you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
   you know it completely, O LORD.

I'm sorry, Lord, for avoiding You. I'm sorry that I felt, even for a second, that You weren't listening, and that You didn't care. Please, Father, in Jesus' name I ask, bring me back to the relationship You want me to have with You.  Please, bring anyone reading this into that close relationship with You. Make us ready for Jesus' coming. Please, if He really is coming shortly, encourage us with that. Put that truth inside us and let it bring us joy. I am thirsty for You, Lord. I don't want to be in this desert any more. Please, help me to come meet with You, to read your word. Please, strengthen my will to do that and help me ignore my emotions. And please, Lord, please, let the emotions catch up soon. In Jesus' name, I ask these things for me - and for anyone reading this. Amen.

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