I don’t know about you, but the Lord sometimes loves me enough to nearly kill me. And I’m not talking metaphorically.
In fact, for those who have given our lives to Him, the Lord loves us so much that some day He literally will take our lives so He then can give us eternity.
Short of death, however, the Lord sometimes kills something important to us or in us – some vision, some hope, some confidence, some quality or attribute, some accomplishment, or even something good He previously gave us.
It’s not that the thing He kills necessarily is wrong. It’s just that it needs to die so we then are free to be and do whatever He wants of us, and for us, as we move forward in Him.
As Job understood, in the midst of everything good in his life being stripped away, “Though you slay me, will I trust you Lord.” Job 13:15.
Let me repeat that: Though you slay me, I will trust you Lord.
Some of you, who God has loved enough to nearly slay, understand Job. His words resonate at the core of your being.
Like Job, God has slain you as everything you held dear – and previously had been given by God Himself – has died.
Yet in it, you learned to trust the Lord, and on the other side of it all, you found His grace.
Eight years, I came down with a rare, degenerative autoimmune disease called scleroderma (also known as systemic sclerosis).
When it first hit me, I nearly died and I lost everything – and I mean everything – dear to me, including my will to live. It was a difficult transition, but God used it to kill what needed to die in me. When He was done slaying me, He then began restoring much that I’d lost, although in totally new ways that were not possible before.
Over the last few years, as part of that restoration, the disease was largely in remission – much to the amazement of my doctors. In 2011, however, I started feeling it begin to re-surge.
In early 2012, in response to my concerns, the doctors ran some tests and discovered that the scleroderma was now in my lungs. Normally, that is a fatal development, and during most of last year I experienced increasing shortness of breath and diminishing stamina as my health deteriorated.
I was put on an experimental drug in May, which for the next several months literally turned me into an invalid due to its highly toxic and unexpected side effects – all on top of my autoimmune symptoms.
However, the drug, despite it’s many problems, seems to have helped with my lungs and by early autumn I was breathing better.
It’s not all clear sailing, however. Even though I’m now off the drug, its immune suppressant effects caused me to come down with extremely painful shingles several months ago – which is continuing to linger the present.
As this latest transition began, I struggled with the prospect of likely death and wrote a poem to Marianne about my life and my love for her. See I am Content.
It was hard to adjust to incapacity and needing to lean on others, after living an amazing life of strength and adventure. The only thing I had to hold onto was God’s grace and Marianne’s love for me.
Through most of 2012, as my health declined, I had to relinquish lots of who I was, and what I was doing.
A particular difficult turning point came in June.
I remember driving to the jail as waves of nausea washed over me. When I pulled into a handicapped parking space (thank God for those!) near the jail entrance, I sat in my car drained, exhausted and confused.
I was struggling over whether I should go into the jail to be with, and encourage, some brothers who gathered each Sunday afternoon in a housing unit where I had helped plant an indigenous church several years previously – and which was still going strong.
Through that fellowship, literally hundreds of men had come to the Lord over the years, discipleship was happening and lives were being changed as they learned to obey all that Christ commanded. Christ in them was being expressed among them and through them! They were walking with the Lord, taking ownership of their future as God directed, forming healthy community, and ministering one to another.
Sitting in my car, I worried that if I went in that day I might have another nausea attack and throw up in the jail – which would cause all sorts of complications with the jail authorities, beyond simply my own condition.
As I struggled over what to do, I felt the Lord’s love and concern surround me. I had this intense sense of His pleasure over my years of having ministered in the jail. But as clear as could be, I also heard Him silently say, “Jim, this season in your life is over.”
Immediately, began to I weep. I mean, I WEPT, with sobs and convulsion, there in my car.
I loved those men in the jail with a deep, deep passion. Although I knew, with firm assurance, that the time for me to go into the the jail had now ended, the pain of thinking I’d not see them again was beyond belief. (That assumption, however, proved untrue – see Ripples.)
In other ways, the Lord systematically killed other things near and dear to me throughout 2012 – not in anger, but in love.
At one point, around July, the physical incapacity became so bad I told Marianne, in tears, that if my health deteriorated over the next six months like it had over the previous six months, I would not survive. And I meant it, as we hugged each other and sought God’s grace for whatever might come.
The pain – both from the sorrow of loss and the physical pain – was intense. Nonetheless, I felt increasing gratitude and trust as the year progressed and I learned t0 increasingly draw strength from the Lord’s abiding presence and Marianne’s amazing love and grace.
Through it all, I had the assurance that He knew me – and I was His.
All I could do was trust the Lord – even though I didn’t know if He was preparing to take me home to be with Him or had some other purpose in all that was happening.
I guess I’ve gone through enough difficult transitions over the decades – each of which turned out for the better – to now trust the Lord and not freak out.
That doesn’t make it easy, as things that are important to me – and which may even have come from the Lord in the past – are killed and I wait to see what the Lord intends for the future.
But I’ve always known when the time of transition is ending, because I start getting restless and anxious (in a good way).
That is where I’m at now.
2012 was year of transition. It was an exceptionally difficult and challenging year of deteriorating health and trusting the Lord enough to let go of what He had called me to do in the past – and the responsibilities that came with them – and simply learning to be grateful and content with each day, a day at a time.
Now, however, I’m sensing that it’s time to move on. In fact, over the last two months I’ve been feeling surprisingly well – other than dealing with the shingles.
This morning, Marianne shared a picture God gave her yesterday evening (God often speaks to me in logic, but to Marianne in pictures). She said the Lord showed her a bear that had been hibernating in a cave, but was now starting to stir as spring came.
Yup, I thought – that’s where I’m at. I feel that stirring in my spirit: winter is ending.
God is giving me a sense of anticipation – that He’s killed most of what needed to die, even though much of it was stuff He Himself had previously given me, qualities that He had used in me in the past, and things He had once called me to do.
I don’t fully know what the Lord wants me to now be or do, although I’m finding a new, very powerful – but quiet and humbling – anointing as I slowly being to move into some new things that He seems to be opening up.
One thing I do know: That whatever the future holds, it will be something that Marianne and I will walk in together.
We have always been extremely close and walked together in amazing love, unity and reciprocal respect.
But I now sense that we will be used by the Lord together, to a degree we’ve never experienced before, as I’ve submitted myself more and more over this last year – through mutual esteem – to God’s grace in her.
… I Will Trust You Lord
As I come out of this time of transition, there’s a song by Kevin Prosch that has resonated with me over the last couple of months. It includes the refrain, “Though you slay me, I will trust you Lord.”
When I hear those words, my body is renewed, my soul stirred, and my spirit soars as the grace of that truth becomes more and more real in me.
To be slain by the Lord is painful, but beautiful. Those who have experienced it, although falling short of actual physical death, understand what I just said.
Those who are yet young and prideful in their faith, and arrogantly holding onto their own agenda, will react with stupid assertions – like affliction is a sign of bad doctrine or being outside God’s will or even sin.
Earlier this month, I read a blog by a young man – full of himself and his self-proclaimed “vision” of Christ – who chastised those who’ve raised legitimate cautions about some of his writings. He stated that folks suffer from autoimmune diseases because they promote “religion” and “legalism” (i.e., anything that differs from his own very limited concept of Christ).
I smiled and wondered at the arrogance of youth, and felt deep, deep gratitude that I have nothing of myself or my “ministry” or my “vision” that I need to defend through such foolish assertions.
Though you slay me, I will trust you Lord.
So as I sit here this morning, I feel peace. I feel His presence and I know His assurance – because He loves me enough to slay me, and because of it, I have come to trust Him in ways that otherwise would be impossible to understand.
I think the Lord has some things yet for me to accomplish here on earth for His Kingdom. But if not, that’s OK.
Though you slay me, I will trust you Lord.