Dear, dear ones,
There are certain words we would rather not hear. One word that usually falls in this category almost always has some sort of pain associated with it: goodbye.
During years spent itinerating in evangelism, I always dreaded the last night of the public meetings—leaving those who had just found Jesus. During our years of pastoral ministry, I always dreaded moving to a new area—leaving those who had become beloved members. During my years serving you, I always dreaded the final meeting of our retreats or conventions—leaving you, my Shepherdess friends. Maybe that is why the old Adventist hymn “Never Part Again” is so poignant and reassuring. Heaven is the place where we will never ever have to say goodbye again, and—praise the Lord!—heaven has never been so near as it is now.
As most of you know, these last months have brought me more goodbyes and losses than I thought a human could bear. Losing my husband, Jim, and my sister, Deanna, in death; losing my mother’s cheerfulness and unconditional love; and now saying goodbye to you, my Shepherdess sisters. But through all this loss, there is One who will never leave us, One who will never say goodbye to us. He holds us tightly to Him, and when we are too tired to hold on to Him, He tenderly clutches us even closer. He knows when we are hurting, and because He created hearts, only He can heal a heart that is broken.
In Matthew 12:20, we read this promise: “A bruised reed He will not break; and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (NIV). A reed is usually strong and resilient. It stands straight and tall at the water’s edge because it gains nourishment from the water and is rooted in the river soil. But when a reed is bruised or crushed, it becomes fragile and vulnerable. Similarly, a candle’s wick burns bright and gives heat and warmth. It draws its flame from the oil in which it is established. But harsh, frigid winds can bear down upon the flame and snuff out a smoldering wick to a breath away from coldness. Quoting Isaiah, Matthew reminds us of this centuries-old, everlasting promise. We serve a loving God who knows all about strengthening bruised reeds and rekindling smoldering wicks.
If you feel like a bruised reed or a smoldering wick, re-read the story in Luke 24 about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. These two had experienced unspeakable pain. They had said goodbye to all their hopes and dreams. They were discouraged and confused. They had watched Jesus, in whom they put all their trust and faith, die on a cross. More speculation surrounded them when Jesus’ body went missing. The situation becomes personal when they sigh “We were hoping . . .” Obviously, they were hoping for anything except this!
They believed that Jesus was God, and God hadn’t done what they wanted Him to do. They knew what they expected of Jesus, but God knows more about life than people do. These disciples wanted Jesus to redeem Israel, but Jesus knew that He would rather His people be temporarily oppressed than eternally lost. When forced to choose between tackling Pilate or battling Satan, Jesus chose to win the battle we couldn’t win. He said No to what the disciples wanted and Yes to what they needed. He said No to a liberated Israel and Yes to a redeemed humanity.
It would be easy for us to look back at these two faithful followers and, knowing how the story ends, bypass their pain. But speaking personally, this is hard stuff. When God doesn’t do what we want Him to do, it’s not easy. Never has been, never will be. But my faith is simply the conviction that God knows more about my life than I do, and He will get me through it. He never promised I wouldn’t have dark, fearful valleys, but He did promise that I wouldn’t have to navigate them alone.
When Jesus decided to make contact with these two confused disciples, He knew that disappointment makes people blind to God’s presence. So, He did two things: He came to them where they were, and He asked them what they wanted.
Then He told them a story, not just any story but the story of God and His plan for His people. This same story is what I need to hear when I am hurting and life is beyond my understanding. The same story is what you need to hear when circumstances are beyond what you think you can bear. The cure for the disciples’ broken hearts and keen disappointment was the story of God, and the cure for you and me is the story of God, too.
Jesus started the story with Moses and finished with Himself. Why? Maybe because what these two needed is the same thing you and I need: we need to hear that despite our loss, despite our lack of understanding, despite whatever evil does to crush us, God is still in control. We need to hear that these losses are not reasons to bail out; they are actually the very reasons we should sit tight and hold on.
Corrie ten Boom once said, “When the train goes through a tunnel and the world gets dark, do you jump out? Of course not. You sit still and trust the engineer to get you through.” Why did Jesus tell these disciples the story? Perhaps because 2,000 years later you and I would need to be reminded that the Engineer still controls the train.
- When challenges that lie ahead overwhelm us, we can read the story of Moses walking through the Red Sea.
- When worries seem unsolvable, we can read the story of daily manna faithfully feeding the Israelites.
- When wounds inflicted seem too deep to heal, we can read the story of Joseph forgiving his brothers.
- When the odds seem stacked against us, we can read the story of Jehoshaphat and the battle already won.
- When disappointment seems unbearable, we can read the story of the disciples walking the road to Emmaus. In Luke 24:31, they said, “It felt like a fire burning in us . . .” Jesus knew these disciples were bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. His presence and His story brought vibrant life back to them.
And so, dear ones, when you wonder if Jesus really cares, read the story of His sacrifice on the cross at Calvary. He died just for me. He died only for you. Read the story. Read it again and again and again.
You and I love and serve a God who said goodbye to His only Son and sent Him into our dark world so that we would never have to say goodbye again. Remember this story.
Leo Tolstoy, the famous Russian author, describes a time he saw a beggar on the street. When Tolstoy reached into his pocket to give the man some coins, he was startled to discover that he had no money. He turned to the man and said, “I am so sorry, my brother, but I have nothing to give you.” The beggar looked up at him, smiled, and said, “You have given me more than I asked for—you have called me your brother.”
Dear friends, through the years you have given me so much more than I could have ever asked for—you have called me your sister.
May God bless you every one.