The writer of Hebrews tells us, "We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:14-15).
Most Christians are familiar with this verse. It tells us that our high priest, Jesus, feels our sufferings along with us. The Greek word for touched here means "sympathy, resulting from experiencing the same kind of suffering." In other words, our Lord is personally touched by every calamity, pain, confusion and despair that befalls us. There's nothing we've experienced that he hasn't endured also, in one way or another.
Because we have such a great high priest, we're instructed, "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:14-16). We're told, "Your savior knows exactly what you're going through. And he knows exactly how to minister his grace to you." My question is, when we're in a time of great need, how do we "find grace," as Hebrews suggests?
I've heard most of the theological definitions of grace: unmerited favor, the goodness of God, his special love. But grace took on a different meaning for me last December, when my eleven-year-old granddaughter, Tiffany, underwent tests for a possible brain tumor. My wife, Gwen, and I were at the hospital with our daughter Debbie, and her husband, Roger, the day the doctors performed tests on our precious grandchild. As we stood waiting to hear the results, all we could do was pray for grace.
It had all happened so suddenly. Just the day before, Debbie and Roger had called us to pray as they took Tiffany to the doctor. She'd been having awful headaches, and now she'd begun bleeding from her eye. As we hung up, I said to Gwen, "Life is so fragile. A single phone call can turn your whole world upside down."
The next day, as we arrived at the hospital in Virginia, Gwen and I saw desperate parents all through the corridors. They wore worried expressions as they braced themselves for possible bad news about their children. Often, when the awful word came to them - "It's malignant" - some screamed in agony, totally falling apart.
As we all waited to hear Tiffany's lab report, I silently prayed for strength to accept whatever the verdict was. At that moment, it didn't matter to me what the theological meaning of grace was. To me it meant having God's peace, and receiving any news without panicking. I prayed, "Lord, we know you do all things right. We put our trust in you. Don't let us sin with our lips. Give us your grace to endure this."
Then the torrent of bad news came: Tiffany had a large tumor, one of the worst kinds. It was malignant.
I'd heard that awful word "malignant" eight times before. Gwen, Debbie, and our younger daughter, Bonnie, had all battled cancer. Thanks to the Lord, they've all survived every terrible ordeal. Yet each time we got the bad reports, it was the worst news anyone could have told me. I can't tell you what Gwen and I went through in that moment with our granddaughter, Tiffany. I can only tell you that my pain drove me to the book of Job.
Job was a godly man whose family was very close. He and his wife had ten adult children, seven sons and three daughters. Job prayed over his children daily, offering sacrifices on their behalf: "For Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually" (Job 1:5).
Job had no idea what was going on in heaven at the time between God and Satan. He was never warned that sudden calamity was about to strike his family. And the Bible paints a horrifying scene: within the span of a single day, Job lost not only his servants and possessions, but all ten of his children died in a natural disaster (see Job 1:13-22).
Try to imagine Job and his wife's tragic loss. Within just a few hours, everything precious to them had been ripped out of their lives: every beloved son and daughter, each dear servant and handmaid. Even in his great grief and anguish, Job chose to react according to the good alternative. His grieving wife chose the wrong one.
Job's wife must have been embittered when she overheard a messenger say, "The fire of God is fallen from heaven, and hath burned up...and consumed" (Job 1:16). As the terrible news sank in, this woman refused to be consoled. And she charged God foolishly, urging her husband, "Curse God, and die" (2:9). She was saying, in essence, "Why would the Lord bring down such unthinkable tragedy on this godly family?"
Personally, I can't blame Job's wife for her reaction. If I'd lost all my children and loved ones in a single afternoon, I might find my heart in the same condition as hers. I believe that when those awful reports came, Job's wife simply died inside. She was still physically alive, but in her heart she was gone.
Yet there was still another awful tragedy to come. Soon her husband was stricken with painful boils, from head to toe. Job ended up sitting on a heap of ashes, scraping his flesh with broken pieces of pottery, to relieve his pain. The sight of this diseased man was so gruesome, people turned aside in horror. Even Job's friends didn't recognize him at first. Once they did, they were unable to look at him. They sat at a distance from him, sorrowing and weeping over what had happened to their friend.
Meanwhile, Job's wife must have been absolutely numb. Her memories of joyous family gatherings, as well as her hope for the future, had been shattered. Her entire world had collapsed around her. She would never experience such joy or hope again. Now everything within her died: love, hope, faith. And anger and disbelief filled her soul.
Job also grieved deeply. This man was in great need of a word of comfort. But instead, his wife exploded at him, saying, "Dost thou still retain thine integrity?" (2:9). Two things are inferred in this despairing woman's cutting words. First, she asked, "What awful, hidden sin have you committed, Job, to bring such terrible judgment from God upon us? Don't try to convince me you're still a man of integrity."
Second, she inferred, "So, this is how God treats a righteous family? We've held a family altar every day for years. We've walked perfectly before the Lord. And we've used our abundance to bless the poor. Why would the Lord rob us of everything that's precious to us? I can't serve a God who would allow this to happen."
Then this distraught woman uttered the awful words: "Curse God, and die" (2:9). She was acknowledging, "I'm dead already, Job. What else is left for me? It's better to die than to be without our children. So, come on. Curse God, and die along with me."
Her condition illustrates the fierce battle with the enemy that each of us faces when a tragedy strikes. I saw this battle recently in a young woman I sat next to on an airplane. I noticed her weeping quietly. So I told her I was a minister and asked if I could help. She answered, "Sir, I just can't believe in your God."
She told me her father had died suddenly. She described him as a good man, one who'd always given of himself to help others. Now, through bitter tears, this woman told me, "I can't believe in a God who would kill a good father in the prime of his life." She'd chosen the terrible alternative of Job's wife: she blamed God, and now she'd begun to spin off into despair. Although she was physically alive, she was dead inside.
Although Job's grief also was "very great" (Job 2:13), he trusted God in the midst of his sorrow and pain. Like his grieving wife, he too longed to die. His despair was so overwhelming, he wished he'd never been born. Yet, through all of this, Job stated, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13:15).
Job was saying, in effect, "It doesn't matter if these boils take me to my grave. I'll go out trusting the Lord. I'll never give up my confidence that he knows what he's doing. Even though I don't understand anything about this tragedy, I know God has some eternal purpose. Even if he chooses to slay me, I'll trust him to my last breath."
Like David, at times I've expressed grief to the point of tears. David wrote, "Oh that I had wings like a dove! For then I would fly away, and be at rest...I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest" (Psalm 55:6, 8). Yet I admit, I have never experienced grief like Job's. I've never come to the point that I wished I were dead.
In that Virginia hospital, Gwen and I saw examples of both kinds of reactions. The cases were so tragic: A two-year-old child had fallen twenty-one stories and was being treated for head trauma. Another critically injured baby had been rushed to the hospital by helicopter. A frail little girl, pale and weak, walked past us pushing her IV pole. Another little girl was flipped out, speaking nonsense.
We could usually tell which parents of these suffering children were Christians. As we passed by some of the rooms, we felt a great peace. In those cases, we sensed God's sustaining power at work, as the parents leaned and rested on God's Word.
But in other rooms, there was utter chaos and disorder. We could actually feel some parents' hopelessness. They blamed God, asking, "Why would a good God allow this?" We saw them pacing the halls, angrily wondering, "Why, why, why?"
When your calamity comes, you have a choice to make. You can get mad at God, continually asking, "Why?" Or, you can say, "Lord, no matter what happens, I know you have the grace and power to sustain me." As followers of Jesus, we simply have to run to our high priest, to obtain the mercy and comfort of the Holy Ghost. And we have to trust in God's all-knowing grace. At times, we may cry, grieve and long to die. We may not be able to sleep, our minds wracked by questions. Yet God allows us to go through each of these things. They're all a part of his healing process.
But, how, exactly, do we find his grace to help us in our time of need? How is this grace dispensed to us? When we're in the midst of a crisis, we can't rely on some foggy theological definition. We need God's very real help. How do we get his grace into our heart, our soul, our physical body when we're hurting?
I believe we're touched by God's grace in at least two marvelous ways:
Throughout Scripture, the greatest revelations of God's goodness came to people in their times of trouble, calamity, isolation and hardship. We find an example of this in the life of John. For three years, this disciple was "in Jesus' bosom." It was a time of utter rest, peace and joy, with no troubles or trials. Yet, in all that time, John received very little revelation. He knew Jesus only as the Son of man. So, when did John receive his revelation of Christ in all his glory?
It happened only after John was dragged from Ephesus in chains. He was exiled to the Isle of Patmos, where he was sentenced to hard labor. He was isolated, with no fellowship, no family or friends to comfort him. It was a time of utter despair, the lowest point in his life.
Yet that's when John received the revelation of his Lord that would become the final element of Scripture: the Book of Revelation. In the midst of that dark hour, the light of the Holy Ghost came to him. And John saw Jesus as he'd never seen him. He literally saw Christ as the Son of God.
John had never received this revelation while he was with the other apostles, or even during Jesus' days on earth. Yet now, in his darkest hour, John saw Christ in all his glory, declaring, "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death" (Revelation 1:18). This incredible revelation put John on his face. But Jesus lifted him up and he showed him the set of keys he held in his hand. And he reassured John, "Fear not" (1:17).
I believe this revelation comes to every praying, hurting servant in his or her time of need. The Holy Spirit says, "Jesus holds all the keys to life and death. So everyone's departure rests in his hands. Therefore, Satan can never take you or any member of your family. Christ alone determines our eternal destiny. So, if he turns a key, there's a reason for it. And that reason is known only to himself, the Father and the Holy Ghost."
This revelation is meant to bring peace to our hearts. Like John, we're to envision Jesus standing before us, holding the keys to life and death, assuring us, "Don't be afraid. I hold all the keys." What is our response to be? Like Job, we're to say in faith, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21).
A troubled minister wrote the following: "Fifteen years ago my wife had breast cancer. Now she's been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She may have to be placed in a hospice. For forty years now, we've been involved in God's work. I have to wonder, was all that labor in vain? Doesn't it count for anything? Won't God give us a break?"
I say to this dear brother: I believe that right now, in your darkest hour, Jesus wants to reveal to you his Godness. Yes, you're hurting deeply. But if you'll trust him in the midst of your pain, you'll come into a revelation that will open your eyes to things you've never seen or understood. And you'll be used of the Lord to help many others.
The Bible tells us Jacob received an incredible revelation, through a face-to-face encounter with God: "Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved" (Genesis 32:30). What was the circumstance surrounding this revelation? It was the lowest, scariest point in Jacob's life. At the time, Jacob was caught between two powerful forces: his angry father-in-law, Laban, and his hostile, embittered brother, Esau.
Jacob had just labored over twenty years for Laban, who'd cheated him time after time. Finally, Jacob had enough. So, without telling Laban, he took his family and fled.
Laban gave chase from the east with a small army, ready to kill Jacob. Yet, only when God warned Laban in a dream not to harm Jacob did this man let his son-in-law go. No sooner was Laban out of the picture, however, than Esau came from the west. He too led a small army of some 400 men, ready to kill his brother for stealing his birthright.
Jacob faced total calamity, convinced he was about to lose everything. Things looked utterly hopeless. Yet in that dark hour, Jacob had an encounter with God as never before. He wrestled with an angel that scholars believe was the Lord himself. And afterward he said, "I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved" (32:30).
Now think back to Job. This man was also at his lowest point. He had endured overwhelming grief, agonizing physical pain, utter rejection by his friends. Yet, in Job's darkest hour, God appeared to him in a whirlwind. And the Lord gave this man one of the greatest revelations of himself ever witnessed by any human being.
God took Job up into the cosmos, then down into the depths of the sea. He led him into the very secrets of creation. And Job saw things that no person had ever seen. He was shown the utter glory and majesty of God. And Job emerged from that experience praising God, saying, "I now know you can do anything, Lord. I repent for questioning your judgment. I see that everything is under your control and directed by your grace. You've had a plan all along. I'd only heard of you before, but now I've actually seen you with my eyes" (see Job 42:2-5).
Something marvelous happens when we simply trust. A peace comes over us, enabling us to say, "It doesn't matter what comes out of this ordeal. My God has everything under control. I have nothing to fear."
You may object, "But I'd rather have God fix everything, and remove my pain and grief. I'd gladly settle for less revelation." No, the revelation that comes to you is intended for more than your comfort alone. It's meant to make you a grace-giver, to dispense the healing grace of God to others.
God often uses angels to minister to people. But mostly, he uses his own caring people to dispense his grace. This is one reason we're made partakers of his grace: to become channels of it. We're meant to dispense it to others. I call this "people grace."
"Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ" (Ephesians 4:7). Because of the comfort we're given through God's grace, it's impossible for any of us to continue grieving our whole lifetime. At some point, as we're being healed by the Lord, we begin to build up a reservoir of God's grace.
I believe this is what Paul meant when he wrote, "I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me...that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ" (3:7-8). "Ye all are partakers of my grace" (Philippians 1:7). The apostle is making a profound statement. He's saying, "When I go to God's throne to obtain grace, it's for your sake. I want to be a merciful shepherd to you, not a judgmental one. I want to be able to dispense grace to you in your time of need." God's grace made Paul a compassionate shepherd, able to weep with those who grieved.
Peter writes, "As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God" (1 Peter 4:10). What does it mean to be a good steward, or dispenser, of God's manifold grace? Am I such a person? Or do I spend my time praying only for my own pain, grief and struggles?
When we were at the hospital with Tiffany, we saw the Lord's "people grace" in action. Debbie and Roger were flooded with love from the congregation they'd joined. Those saints' support of our family, led by a godly pastor and his wife, was incredible. Grace flowed out from all directions: People brought meals for Debbie and Roger. Others brought stuffed animals for Tiffany. One group said, "We don't want to be a bother. We just came to pray." So they stood outside Tiffany's room and interceded.
I saw the same people grace flowing out of Times Square Church when we returned home. Pastor Carter Conlon had left a message on our answering machine saying, "David and Gwen, we love you. This church is fasting and praying for Tiffany." Later, as I walked the streets of New York, feeling heavy with grief, our Pastor Neil Rhodes saw me. He stopped and said, "Pastor David, you and your family are so loved. We're all standing with you." My spirit was lifted, through the grace given to me.
I saw this same people grace in the waiting room of that Virginia hospital. As I talked with Roger and Debbie about Tiffany's operation, a distraught mother came in. She sat down on the sofa, looking absolutely brokenhearted. When I asked what was wrong, she said, "My fifteen-year-old son's liver stopped functioning a few weeks ago. If he doesn't receive a transplant, he won't live more than a few weeks."
I asked the woman if we could pray for her. She said yes, so I started praying. After a minute or so, though, I heard a commotion, so I stopped and looked up. Debbie was sitting next to the woman. They were clutching each other - weeping together, patting each other's shoulders, comforting one another.
Then Debbie started praying for the woman. I knew that this prayer came out of my daughter's own hurt. And I realized I was witnessing true people grace. My daughter and this suffering woman were locked in an embrace of shared pain.
Beloved, our present sufferings are producing something precious in our lives. They're forming in us a cry for the gift of mercy and grace, to offer to others who are hurting. Our sufferings make us want to be grace givers.
I think this is why I was so troubled as I read the book of Job recently. I was angered as I saw how terribly Job's three so-called friends treated him in the midst of his grief. On page after page of my Bible I wrote, "How cruel! How awful!" These men told Job, "If thou wert pure and upright; surely now he would awake for thee, and make the habitation of thy righteousness prosperous" (8:6). "You've forgotten God, Job. You're a hypocrite" (see 8:13). "You're full of empty talk and lies" (see 11:2-3). "You're getting less than what your sin deserves" (see 11:6).
A few months ago, I sent out a message entitled, "You Don't Have to Understand Your Afflictions - You've Got Grace." Afterward, I received several hurtful letters from readers. They wrote, in essence, "Take me off your mailing list. You may not understand why you suffer so much, but I do. You have no faith. I want nothing to do with your kind of gospel. You ought to have power over your afflictions."
Obviously, these responses weren't given in the Spirit of Christ. They simply weren't marked by the grace and compassion that characterize our Lord. Some people actually get a kind of cruel satisfaction out of another person's suffering. When Debbie went through her own first bout with cancer, the leaders of the church she attended asked her to leave. They said, "You're not a testimony to God's healing power."
These kinds of harsh words make me cry out with Paul, "Lord, make me a grace giver. Let me experience your mercy, so I can show it to others." I have no anger toward any of these poor, deluded souls. I know that, sadly, a time is coming when they'll face their own hour of calamity and grief. And they'll have no inner resources to deal with it.
Job, on the other hand, became a grace giver. Because this man clung to his trust in God throughout his ordeal, he was able to give grace to his embittered wife. This is even more remarkable when you consider the dead state this woman was in. Had you been with her when she heard the awful news about her children, you'd have thought, "She'll never pull out of this. She'll never smile or lead a normal life again."
Yet, it wasn't long after this that joy and laughter filled her home once more. She saw her husband healed from his disease. And she gave birth to ten more children: seven sons and three daughters, just like before. Everything was restored, and more.
Job and his wife called their first daughter Jemima, meaning "warm, loving, little dove." Talk about a picture of God's grace: the same woman who'd told her husband to curse God was now blessed with a lovely little dove that brought peace to her home.
Job's wife not only came back to life, but she laughed and rejoiced again. Obviously, she could never forget the past. But now a whole new world of blessing and joy was opened to her. And righteous Job lived another 140 years. Scripture says this godly man lives to see "his sons, and his sons' sons, and even four generations" (Job 42:16).
God's word assures us, "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Psalm 30:5). And it all happens by grace!