THE FRAGILITY OF LIFE AND THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD

“ . . .  yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” James 4:14-15

The fragility of life has a way of giving you a wake up call when you’re headed in an ambulance to the hospital, with no recollection of the trip there.  Since the beginning of the month of December, I battled sickness that, although not initially beginning as Covid, ended up with me in the hospital for 6 days with Covid, as well as bacterial and viral pneumonia.  I had no idea of the gravity of the situation until I was later told I had a 50/50 chance of surviving.  Having been discharged from the hospital, and upon hearing someone say, “Shawn, this is a miracle of God,” I have garnered a new perspective on several things. 

Before I share with you some of those perspectives, first, I know that there are some who will speculate as to whether or not I have received the Covid shot, and that my subsequent illness was due to either having the vaccine or not. I’ve already been asked.  Please know that such speculation will lead you to miss the the bigger point and picture of what I want to share.  

Second, illness is always hard to experience personally, and perhaps even more, watch people you love go through the difficulty of sickness, be it Covid, cancer, or any other type of illness.  I saw the care of my wife and family members, and the weight of concern that was heavy.  Magnify that with the loss of life, and the grieving is deep.   

Third, I’ve thought about life and death a great deal this past month.  Over the course of my illness we have had other family members dealing with sickness, experienced the birth of our new granddaughter whom I got to hold for the first time a couple of days ago since her being born almost four weeks ago, and have experienced the loss of life of close family members.  It’s been an up-and-down rollercoaster of emotions.   

DON’T MISS THIS

If there is anything that needs not be missed, especially in light of what we have collectively seen, heard, and experienced over these past two years, it is the fact that life is fragile.  It’s a vapor.  And ultimately, life is not in our hands.  Of course, life has always been fragile since that day in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve bought into the lies of the evil one that they could really live when in actuality they were never more alive than they would ever be.  

NEW, BUT NOT SO NEW, PERSPECTIVES

This is more for me than anyone else, but perhaps these new, but not so new, perspectives might encourage you to live differently today, and all the days God sovereignly and graciously chooses to gift to you:

LIFE IS FRAGILE.

It has become even more glaringly clear that there is nothing I can do to make life less fragile, but what I can do is hold on to the gospel that speaks to and of the hope we have in Jesus, the One who keeps those who are His, now and for eternity.  In other words, difficult times are going to come; that’s life in a broken, sin-marred world.  And because I can trust in the sovereign goodness of God, I do not have to live paralyzed by fear.  I may not be able to fully guard my life physically, but I can guard my heart and mind with the truth of who God is and that His word is faithful and true.  Where that comes into view practically is daily surrendering all fears and anxieties to God, and resting in the peace of His Spirit who abides in every follower of Christ.  It is a choosing to believe, again, that God’s own word regarding who He is, is true, therefore I have nothing to fear.  I can surrender my fragile life to the One True and Faithful God, and know that He holds me to the end.  

“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  Matthew 6:27

“You keep Him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.”  Isaiah 26:3-4

LIFE IS BRIEF.

Because life is fragile, life is brief.  In the span of eternity, the moments we breathe in and breathe out are but a mist here on earth.  God’s word gives us direction, thankfully, how to live and it is certainly counter to the culture’s view to get all you can while you can.  

The prayer of the psalmist is so on point when he prays, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”  Psalm 90:12  

I can attest that there have been moments when I haven’t numbered my days.  But in light of what I’ve experienced, my desire is that God would daily remind me by His Spirit to get a heart of wisdom so that all my days might be expended for His glory and pointing others to Jesus.  I have confident hope that as I trust in the God who created me, I can live life to the fullest now while awaiting the best life that really is yet to come for all who have placed their faith in Christ.   

In his book, Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper writes, 

“My joy grows with every soul that seeks the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Remember, you have one life. That’s all. You were made for God. Don’t waste it . . . Life is wasted if we do not grasp the glory of the cross, cherish it for the treasure that it is, and cleave to it as the highest price of every pleasure and the deepest comfort in every pain. What was once foolishness to us—a crucified God—must become our wisdom and our power and our only boast in this world.”

GOD IS SOVEREIGN. 

Hope isn’t realized outside of a firm belief in the truth that God is sovereign.  And although none of us like to feel a sense of lack of control, what we feel doesn’t offer hope; truth about who God is, and life found in Him, does.  Thus the hope we find in the truth of God’s Word.  The gospel, and the hope it affords, is that upon which all my fears and anxieties can rest.  

What I discovered in the midst of my own personal illness was that what produced the greatest fear and anxiety in me was knowing I had no control.  There wasn’t anything that could have kept me from getting sick, not a vaccine or therapeutics.  Nothing.  I have no breath outside what God grants me, and neither do you.  

Yes, there is a very real and significant responsibility to live wisely, but people who have been vaccinated twice over and boosted have become ill with Covid and, unfortunately, have died.  The same is true for those who have not been vaccinated.  But the hard truth to accept, because it goes against the grain of our humanity, is that ultimately we do not hold the power of life and death.  

A few days ago I was reminded of the life of John Paton.  In 1866, he and his wife arrived in the New Hebrides as missionaries to a people who were cannibals. In Paton’s autobiography he writes of the people for whom their hearts were burdened,

“Their whole worship was one of slavish fear,” Paton wrote. “So far as ever I could learn, they had no idea of a God of mercy or grace” (Autobiography, 72). 

But there were those who, I’m sure out of genuine concern, allowed the comfort and safety of this world to veil the wonder and glory of God’s calling on Paton’s life . . . 

A certain Mr. Dickson exploded, “The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals!” But to this Paton responded:  Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer. (Autobiography, 56)

What an eternal perspective. 

But perhaps what encouraged me most regarding John Paton, who lost his wife and his infant child while serving in the New Hebrides, was his view of God’s sovereignty, and the understanding that we’re not in control.

My heart rose up to the Lord Jesus; I saw Him watching all the scene. My peace came back to me like a wave from God. I realized that I was immortal till my Master’s work with me was done. The assurance came to me, as if a voice out of Heaven had spoken, that not a musket would be fired to wound us, not a club prevail to strike us, not a spear leave the hand in which it was held vibrating to be thrown, not an arrow leave the bow, or a killing stone the fingers, without the permission of Jesus Christ, whose is all power in Heaven and on Earth. He rules all Nature, animate and inanimate, and restrains even the Savage of the South Seas.” (Autobiography, 207)

Stories like this should point us, not so much to John Paton and his wife’s courage (although I believe they certainly were courageous by the power of God’s Spirit at work in them), but the hope-filled sovereign greatness and goodness of God that Scripture illuminates.  That my life is immortal till my Master’s work is done is an assurance that He who began a good work in us will perfect it until the day of Christ.  

God may not be calling you or me to the New Hebrides, but He is calling us to deeper understanding of His sovereignty, and a more glorious life free of anxiety and fear; full of trust that God is good even when life isn’t good, or doesn’t feel good.  When death comes close, or when He may seem far away.   

CONVICTION OF BELIEFS BECOME CLEARER.

When you’re faced with the reality of death, convictions become clearer regarding what you believe about life and death. 

John Paton asked this question: 

“If thus thrown back upon your own soul, alone, all alone, in the midnight, in the bush, in the very embrace of death itself, have you a Friend that will not fail you then?” 

It’s a similar question I wrestled with:  in the moments of what felt like, and even physically at times were, aloneness and the prospect of death, did I fully believe that God would not fail?  Not fail in His power to save me from death, but rather would I believe that He had already saved nonetheless?  I have affirmed my hope that this life cannot rob me of what it did not give me.    

PRAYER IS POWERFUL.

I can’t begin to thank enough all who prayed, and are continuing to pray, for our family and me.  The cards, texts, calls, and meals have been encouraging more than you know.  But more than anything else, your prayers have not only sustained us, but I believe God has answered for reasons only He knows.  There is power in prayer.  

But even as I type this, I call to mind those whom I know who have lost the battle to Covid-19, cancer, or walked through a season of grieving recently.  They too prayed and asked God to intervene.  And for some reason, in God’s sovereignty, He chose to answer differently and in a way that has been marked by pain and sorrow.  

Nonetheless, we pray; not in futility, but in full faith believing that God’s purposes will not be thwarted nor be accomplished without satisfying His good and perfect will.    

I have found that it is in His bigness that I can rest in the limitations of my understanding, knowing that His character can be nothing but gracious and good.  And He is.

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