RECENTLY WILLOW CREEK celebrated our thirty-fifth anniversary, and after the festivities had come and gone, during a quiet moment of reflection I thanked God for his goodness that has sustained us all these years. Like any church that has been around for a while, we have experienced ups and downs, good times and bad, seasons of blessing and those marked by immeasurable pain. By God’s grace, we have prevailed.
Throughout those three-plus decades of ministry, I have seen too many churches wind up with a far different story to tell. Despite noble intentions and well-meaning commitments, adversity wins the day. The sequence is predictable and sad: calamity strikes and people scatter. They despise the sting, they fear the pain, they rush to disassociate from the mess. But not so with New Life Church. After suffering back-to-back blows that might have leveled another group, this courageous congregation chose to renew their faith, rally their energies, and doggedly rise again.
It is more than a feel-good story for New Life; it is good news for us all. Because as churches reach for their redemptive potential instead of forfeiting the fight, increasing numbers of people wind up living lives that conform to the teaching Jesus offered and the example that he set. The net effect is a drastic reduction of the dangers of living on this planet. Think about this with me: if a few hundred million more people were to enter into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ over the next few years, and if they were then to start choosing inclusion over exclusion, righteousness over evil, serving over controlling, giving over grabbing, peace over violence, and love over hate, this world would be a far better place to live. This is why Jesus told us to pray each and every day that the will of his Father that was being played out to perfection in heaven would start to operate more and more here on planet Earth. Depravity may be on the loose today, but it doesn’t have to be tomorrow. You and I can be agents of eternity-impacting change. We can be ambassadors—of compassion, of encouragement, of hope.
When pain hits home, most people’s tendency is to want to run from it, replace it with another feeling, and pretend like they escaped unharmed. I experienced this most dramatically just after my dad died decades ago. The sadness that descended on me was so awkward and uncomfortable that I merely tried to pull myself together and move on. I returned to work and threw myself into a frenzy of ministry activity, counting on the chaos I was creating to distract me from the deep despair I felt.
But that is not God’s way.
Instead, he encourages us to lean into the neediness we feel. He invites us to watch him bandage our wounds, set our broken bones, and start to stabilize things once more. He inspires us to slow down, review the loss, pray through it thoroughly, talk about it openly, think about it deeply, and write about it reflectively. Thankfully, that is exactly what Brady Boyd has done. And now, in these pages, you and I get to benefit from the lessons he learned along the way.
These days, whenever a round of suffering comes my way, the first thing I try to do—even before I allow myself the first taste of panic—is to try to grab hold of a foundational truth from God that I can cling to until things get sorted out. One that helps me every time is this: God is never, ever the author of evil. If I can’t keep that particular truth straight in my mind, I am going to lose the plot every time. But if stay focused on the theological certainty that God never authors evil, then I stand a better than average chance of weathering the storm.
Throughout the Bible, God also promises that when we pass through the rising waters, we won’t be walking alone. When we fight through the raging rivers, they will not sweep over us. When we walk through the furious fire, the flames will not set us ablaze. And when we trudge through life’s darkest valleys, God promises he’ll always be there.
What’s more, our good God limits the amount and the severity of the evil that comes our way so that it stays within our capacity to endure it. I don’t know about you, but that kind of promise serves as a strategic part of my survival plan for life. Even when my circumstances unnerve me, I can hang onto that with my white-knuckled grip.
You may be reading this and thinking, “That’s great for you, but you obviously don’t understand how severe my suffering is.” Deep down, you believe you are beyond hope, that life’s rising waters are about to pull you under. But it’s simply not the truth. The open tomb of Jesus Christ never stops tossing a life-preserver of hope to even the most hopeless of heart.
If you are going through a rough patch right now, then I’d ask you to consider by faith that just as God wove together something beautiful for the once-brokenhearted people known as New Life Church, he is at work behind the scenes in your life too. Despite how bleak and bitter and cold things may seem as you survey the landscape of your life, I promise you God is working, just beyond what your eyes can see. He never sleeps, the Bible promises, and he never slumbers. He doesn’t take the month off during your season of despair. On the contrary: Romans 8:28 says that for those who love God and follow him, he is working to make all wrong things right.
Take to heart the lessons from Fear No Evil. Don’t wait for the next round of suffering to surface in your life before you confirm your belief that hope exists, that hope is available, and that hope will always prevail.
P.S. from Brady – The proceeds of this book will support the Dream Centers we are opening in Colorado Springs. Pre-order Fear No Evil at www.amazon.com