Friday, March 25, 2016

Beauty instead of Ashes

I shared my testimony at a church youth conference last year, a conference I helped organize as the treasurer of the Midwest Presbytery Covenanter Youth group that hosts these events. All throughout high school I got into the practice of writing and sharing my testimony each year with my local church’s youth group during our summer mission-training activities and outreach programs. My story was always very similar to the stories of my brothers and sisters in Christ, the friends and fellow saints who I had grown up alongside in the confines of the church and the Christian community. Many of them were home schooled as well. Our pastors frequently emphasized how our stories bore all the significance and power of whatever sensational testimonies and conversion stories we were familiar with. They also encouraged us to share the story of our coming to know Christ as well as share how the Holy Spirit was currently working in our lives, emphasis on present tense.

All this to say that what I have shared here is only one chapter of the story. There are many long and winding roads that have brought me to this place, many dark chapters of uncertainty and confusion, and mountaintops of joy and ecstasy. This testimony is a glimpse of what God has laid on my heart recently. If you have never shared your testimony before, I encourage you to write it out and at the very least share it with your close friends and family. Let it be a source of encouragement for them as well as you, to provide assurance of your own faith, the power of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit. Have a blessed Good Friday and a Happy Easter.

I grew up in a Christian home so consequently my conversion story is not very exciting, though it is none the less significant. I was baptized for the first time alongside several of my siblings shortly after my parents joined a Reformed Presbyterian church in 1999. When I was thirteen years old I became a communicant member and gave my profession of faith before the members of my church. I cannot remember a time in my life when I did not know Jesus Christ, when I did not know and understand that he loved me and had died for my sin and risen again so that I might be reconciled to Him and have eternal life with Him. Through the instruction and discipline of my parents, the faithful preaching and teaching of the church, and the work of the Holy Spirit, I have continually grown over the years in a greater understanding, knowledge, and love for Jesus Christ, His Word, and His people.

“A couple years ago I was a full-time student working toward completing my undergraduate degree while living at home with my parents. My plans were interrupted on December 6, 2013 when my brother Ben died in an accident when a gun misfired in his hands. He was seventeen years old. You can imagine how his death shifted my reality and shook the foundation of everything I believed. The bullet fired from the .22 caliber rifle struck my brother’s right shoulder, ricocheted inside of him and immediately punctured both of his lungs as well as an artery. He died almost instantly. The gun should never have gone off in the first place, the safety was on. There are many different ways that night could have ended and it didn’t have to be my brother’s death. But Ben’s death was providential. His death was perfectly timed by the divine will of His heavenly father. I know that to many, this sounds terrible. Many refuse to believe this of God because they cannot understand why a good God would make His people suffer such painful loss.

I have often wrestled with this, as I am sure many others have. I have frequently heard Christian faith described as a superstitious comfort object for people who cannot understand or make sense of their circumstances, particularly death and suffering. But if my religion is supposed to make me feel nice and comfortable then it failed me on the night my brother died. Yet Jesus Christ did not fail me, the Jesus who did not want to drink the cup of His Father’s wrath but submitted to His will nonetheless (Luke 22:39-42), Jesus who shed tears and sweated drops of blood in the garden as his friends slept (Luke 22:44-46), who wept at the sight of Mary’s tears and the loss of his friend, Lazarus (John 11:32-35), who was obedient to His Father’s will to the point of death on a cross and suffered the consequences of sin we will never have to know because of His great love for us (Philippians 2:5-8). There was no superficial comfort remaining the night my brother died, only the anguishing reality of death and the prevailing presence of my Savior and the faithfulness of God even in my pain and suffering.

God was good the night my brother died. Even in my loss, anger, confusion, and pain, I could not deny His goodness. His goodness was made all the more clear in contrast with death and I was made all the more desperate for His grace in my loss. I am thankful my brother was ready to die when Christ called Him home. I am thankful my family and church congregation were prepared to praise God and testify to His grace, that we were not silenced by our grief even as we reeled in the shock of our loss. I am thankful for the way God has stirred in our hearts a desperate yearning for glory and for redemption. I am thankful for the way He has faithfully comforted us and pursued us, drawn us closer to one another and closer to Him in our grief. These past couple of years I have learned to trust my Savior more than ever, to wait continually upon the Lord. I have learned to hold my plans, my loved ones, and even this life loosely, to count it as loss for the sake of Christ in whom I have gained everything.

“Shortly after my brother’s death I decided to take a break from school, moved in with my sisters and started working full-time. Even though my decision was hasty, God in His good providence has used this time to bring healing and give me a clearer understanding of where He has called me. In the years to come, I plan to finish my undergraduate degree while continuing to live and work where I am. I hope to continue to contribute to the church and ongoing ministry here. I don’t know what the next few years have in store, but I go forward with confidence, trusting in God’s proven faithfulness and provision. I would like to close with these verses from Isaiah 61.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has appointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:1-3


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