NOTE: I wrote this in 2005 when I was going through a series of minor health issues. They were nothing really, but did do some good for me. I did not publish this article at the time, but believe it still has meaning. I hope you can share it with those who might benefit from it. JE
One of my longtime friends died recently, and another is extremely sick. I have also had some uncomfortable physical challenges myself, the latest of which is what appears to be a rather manageable pneumonia in one lung.
As I bathed myself in the sweat of fever, I often regretted my inability to sleep and work. As the Christian radio station or a CD of some preacher droned through the night hours, I thought, “Could I face something much worse?”
I have had nothing to complain about. I don’t deserve better, but far worse. In fact, I’ve tried hard not to have any real complaints. But I have sometimes tired of the battle that for me has not lasted that many weeks! My tiredness under God’s hand of providence has surely come out in my speech and demeanor from time to time. How gracious my church and family have been.
My two friends who are in (or just finished) their most difficult battles seemed more God-centered than I in their talk of God and their walk with God. I know that they sometimes must have moaned privately with their spouses, longing for some relief. I know that they fought the worry of the unknown, the gripping power of vivid imagination in the dead of the night. But to me they have been great models of a Godward life. Their long term and persistent struggles leave mine in the dust. They are my heroes.
That real question that their afflictions and my lesser aggravations have brought forward remains in my mind: “Could I take more? What would I be like in the middle of some life-threatening illness? Would I live out my days in a God-honoring way if I could not do all that I had hoped to do for Christ? What if I were nauseated all the time, unable to think cogently, weak to the point of exhaustion every day for the rest of my life, or in severe pain suffering through surgery after surgery? What if I lost my hearing, my sight, or my ability to form words? What if things were never right again?”
I’ve always assumed that I would live a long life. My great grandfather was 101. My grandfathers were nearly 99 on one side, 93 on the other. Many of my aunts and uncles lived into their 90s. My father is soon going to celebrate his 91st birthday. But my mother died of Alzheimers at 67, barely ten years older than I am now.
In my case, I do believe that I will come around physically from my minor struggles, but can I guarantee it? I don’t want anyone to worry about me (there is no need), but just to profit from my experiences, though they have been minuscule compared to others. I have known something in these weeks that is most gratifying and comforting. I’ve known firsthand (again) that there is purpose in God weakening us. He has taught me to “number my days that I may give myself to wisdom,” as the psalmist said so beautifully.
Here are the best lessons. I hope I remember them even if I live to 100 and die peacefully in my sleep.
1. Life is short and the best part is yet to come.
2. God is a comforter and a present help.
3. God does so many warm and helpful things through other Christians and family. I feel so grateful for that.
4. I should prepare my mind better for the dark night of the soul if it should come. By this I mean that I should memorize and meditate more on Scripture.
5. Many things are not that important.
6. The more I know about who God is and how He works, the less fear can reach me.
7. When I cannot pray sensibly, I can cry out to God.
8. One day, there is going to be a beautiful resolve to all that worries me physically or in any other sphere.
Not long ago, I preached in a church in one of our southern states on the subject of providence from James 4. There James says, “Instead we ought to say, ‘If God wills we shall live and do this or that.’” The point I made was that all that happens is entirely dependent on God’s will. As I discussed the beauty of this truth, I was feeling it personally—and was genuinely happy about it. My eye caught a man in the audience. He was a bit older and unknown to me. I would never meet him because I had to leave the service immediately afterwards to make a flight. His eyes said it all, however. When tears rose up in them, I could relate to a common yearning between us. We all want to be reassured that God has a plan that includes our death and the manner in which we die. If so, we can rest in that plan, for He promises that His plans are always for the good of the believer.
I believe that. And at the end of it all, it is that lesson that will carry me through until that last moment on earth, sooner or later. If it is not so, then I have every reason to be anxious, for this world is full of terrors, lions in the face and dogs on the heel, even for the brave at heart.
 This was written in 2005 when I had a series of relatively minor, but persistent health issues. I did not publish it. All is well now, but upon reflection I felt this might be a useful meditation for us all.