Shortly after the twin towers fell in lower Manhattan on 9/11, President Bush paid a visit to the emergency responders who were working in the ruins of the World Trade Center. While speaking against the backdrop of construction and rescue equipment, someone in the crowd called out to him, “We can’t hear you!” Immediately, the president replied, “But I can hear you--and the whole world can hear you!” His message was meant to reassure those working amidst unimaginable tragedy, pain, and suffering, that they were not alone; the watching world heard their cries from the ruins of brokenness.
Oh, how we need to be heard today! From the ruins of our broken world, we so badly need to know that someone hears the cries of our hearts. Family Fire is connected to a prayer ministry that invites readers to share their concerns and needs, so that our staff and a team of volunteers can pray for them. Recently, after asking for prayer requests, hundreds of people submitted their stories. Some shared only a sentence or two, others wrote in paragraphs. Reading through them was a heart-rending experience. Some of you have been devastated as you have watched a son or daughter slide into a life of drugs. Some of you are trying to cope each day with the burden of anxiety or depression. You are caring for aging parents, and you are crushed by the betrayal of your spouse. Some of you lie awake, staring at the ceiling unsure of how you will find a job, or pay your bills. God’s word teaches us to weep and mourn with those who mourn, and to those of you who are mourning, please know that we are mourning and weeping with you. We hear you.
Often, when crisis hits, we are left wondering whether or not God loves us. After all, why would God allow His children to experience the heartache of losing a spouse, watching a child undergo chemotherapy, or coping with a debilitating illness? It may, at times, feel as though God is ignoring our pain or is indifferent to our suffering. It’s also true that in our lowest moments Satan does his best work, whispering to our hearts the lie that our pain is proof that God’s love has faded away. In Romans 8:32-39, Paul searches heaven and earth to find any possible force powerful enough to disrupt God’s love: “trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword...death, life, angels, demons, the present, the future, powers, height, depth, [or] anything else in all creation.” Yet as gut-wrenching as these may be, Paul insists that none of these has the power to lessen God’s love for us. God holds us steadfastly in the grip of his grace--and to make that point, Paul reminds us that God has already poured out his love for us at the cross of Calvary. God has demonstrated his love for us by giving to us what was most precious--his own Son, Jesus of Nazareth. Though this life may be filled with turmoil, you can look (sometimes with tear-stained eyes) to the cross as the supreme reminder that God’s love for you will never fail; in God's Christ, you are his deeply beloved child, supremely precious to him.
More importantly, God hears and sees you. Philippians 4:4 tells us to “rejoice in the Lord Always; I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all; the Lord is near.” Often, it’s almost unthinkable to rejoice when we are lying in a hospital bed, when our sons or daughters have run away from home, or when the clouds of depression darken our hearts. And it would be unthinkable, except that Paul reminds us of that glorious biblical promise, “The Lord is near.” Again and again in the bible, God promises to us: “I will be with you.” Whatever ruins of tears, heartache, fear, or loss you find yourself in today, you are not alone. Your friends may let you down, your parents may not be there for you, your children may disappoint you, and your spouse may even betray you, but God will not. When you are adopted into his family by faith in Christ Jesus, God guarantees to you that he will never turn his back on you. He is near. He sees you. And, he hears you.
Paul continues in Philippians 4 with an assurance that instead of worrying, we may “by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make our requests known to God.” It’s true that this is easier said than done. Whether it’s the car making a strange noise, or test results that indicate that something more serious may be lurking, most of us find things large and small to worry about. What Paul is suggesting here is that we learn to see worry as a pebble in our shoe. Every time we feel a twinge of worry, we ought to let that serve as a call to prayer. The moment anxiety creeps in, let that drive us to turn to God.
Notice two ways Paul shows us to pray. Prayers and petitions are those requests we make of God. We pray for our daughter to get treatment for her addiction, and we pray for a call-back job interview. We ask God to heal our hearts following a divorce, and we pray that God will show us ways to manage the PTSD. There is nothing so great that we cannot ask God to do it, and nothing so small that he doesn’t take notice.
We also pray with thanksgiving. Several months ago, I was hospitalized after what I thought was a minor illness turned out to be more serious. While in the hospital, it struck me how much I took for granted what it is to wake up in the morning, healthy. After I was released, I made a commitment to give thanks each day for the simple gift of good health. Even though I haven’t followed through on this perfectly, I noticed what a difference it made in my attitude when I practiced the habit of giving thanks for even the smallest things.
No matter what we are facing today, God sees you, he hears you, and he is with you. In fact, this is the very heart of the gospel message. God sees the ruins of a fallen, broken, and sinful world, but rather than turn his back on it, abandoning it forever, he enters into it, and becomes a part of it. All of our sins and sorrows are placed on him, and he bears the full curse of sin on himself, so that we might be drawn into a relationship with our loving God. Indeed, so that the “Lord might be near” to those who are hurting. And one day, all of this present heartache, brokenness, sickness, sadness, and even death will finally be laid to rest. God will renew all things in a new heaven and earth, a world completely resurrected into perfection. In that resurrection world, God promises to “wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” As J.R.R. Tolkien once put it, in that resurrection world, “everything sad will come untrue.” As weighty as our present suffering is, one day, we will awaken from it as if it were a terrible nightmare that is no longer real.
Friends, be assured that whether you’re facing the death of a spouse, an addiction to drugs, alcohol or pornography, or a life-threatening illness, in whatever ruins you may be experiencing today, we hear and see you. But most importantly, God sees you and loves you, and is right there with you.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Dr. Robert Ritzema