Disciplines we develop during the normal times help us handle the challenges we face in times of special need. I found this to be true since finding out that my wife had breast cancer.
Psalm 27 talks about how David faced a huge crisis. We could summarise his reaction by saying that at this time what he did most was to seek God’s face: “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, LORD, do I seek.’” (27:8). To seek God in this way is to wait with him and for him until he assures and calms our troubled souls. I found myself using six disciplines developed in the past to help me during this family crisis of ours. They can all be included under this idea of seeking God.
- I got the news that Nelun was having cancer while in Northern Ireland about 20 minutes before going to preach. I went to preach knowing that the sovereign God who called me will help me to do what he called me to do. I was staying in a home near the sea. So that evening I went to the sea with my Bible and had a long walk with God, something I do at home when I am troubled. I meditated on Psalm 46; the Psalm I often read when I visit the sick. This act of meditating on the Word and praying alone with Godin beautiful natural surroundings was like what David wanted to do in Psalm 27:4: “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.”
- I had to wait four days before starting my journey home. Going to sleep at night on those days was an ordeal. I wanted to be near Nelun. I wanted to cry, and I did cry out to Godon that lonely bed, just like David did in Psalm 27:7: “Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me!”Children sometimes cry themselves to sleep. How wonderful to fall asleep crying to God. I must also say that it was a wonderful providence to be staying with some loving Christians rather than in a dreary hotel! I felt uplifted by their love and prayers.
- I cancelled several preaching appointments, but did go to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the USA eighteen days after Nelun’s operation. On my first morning there I was in turmoil asking, what am I doing here? Seeking God’s consolation I took my Methodist Hymn Book, turned to the section on “Service and Influence,” and sang hymns that reminded me of my call. When our emotions tell a very different story to the realities that undergird our lives God often uses the words of others set to music (the language of the heart) to speak to our situation. As we sing, gradually the doctrine in the mind travels to the heart. In a similar vein David in our Psalm resorted to a creed to give him courage, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (27:1). Unchanging truths speak to changing circumstances!
- While I was at Trinity Nelun went for her first round of chemotherapy. It was a key event in the life of our family, and I was not home! What could I do? After praying with Nelun on the phone I went for a prayer meeting that a person at Trinity had organised to pray for another Sri Lankan there and me. Providentially at the same time that Nelun was setting out for chemo with my daughter I was with God’s people praying for her.God does not intend for us to bear our burdens alone (Gal. 6:2). What better way is there to share our load than praying with God’s children?
- After a week at Trinity I went for the Youth for Christ International General Assembly. One night I talked to Nelun on the phone just before going to sleep. That day she had her worst reaction to the chemotherapy. Her voice was weaker than I have ever known before. How could I go to sleep? Almost two decades ago, I had the most serious crisis I faced in my ministry. The leadership was divided. In times of disagreement the leaders had always worked by hammering out issues until there was a resolution. Now we were unable to do that. How could I lead? I realised that the only way I could lead was through prayer. During those days of crisis, I got into the habit of sitting in the presence of God into the night waiting for him to calm my troubled soul. Often I did not say anything but I wasconscious of the fact that I was a helpless child under the wings of my Refuge and Strength. This is what I did that night. Unable to talk to God, I lingered with God into the night until I could go to bed experiencing his peace. David said, “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Psa. 27:14)
- I came home deeply grateful to God for his faithfulness to me, but also conscious of my unfaithfulness to him. He was adequate for my need, but I did not always act in ways that demonstrated his adequacy. This brought me to the sixth way of seeking God: seeking his forgiveness and his strength to live a holy life. After pleading for his forgiveness I prayed a prayer similar to David’s in Psalm 27:11: “Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path….” Again my feelings were best expressed in a hymn. This one was by William Walsham How, titled “It is a Thing Most Wonderful,” and has been a favourite from childhood days.
It is most wonderful to know
His love for me so free and sure;
But ’tis more wonderful to see
My love for him so faint and poor.
And yet I want to love Thee, Lord;
O light the flame within my heart,
And I will love Thee more and more,
Until I see Thee as Thou art.
Let me urge you to develop your disciplines for seeking God. They will serve you well when you encounter crises and trials.