Mission Lab

Praying for a better year?

December 18th, 2017 / By: Gary Ledbetter | Editor in Chief / comments

Praying for a better year?

Sure, I get it. We’ve had our own drama during 2017. On top of that we all personally experienced, a huge natural disaster hit Texas, and then we had frequent opportunities to witness expressions of human evil. I’d just as soon have a little less of that next year. But consider what we’ll miss in the absence of those challenges.

This year, our little family did some hospital time—a bout with cancer and then the lengthy hospitalization of a newborn granddaughter. It’s not what I’d wish for but we saw God’s glory and mercy in those events. The kindness and competence of so many strangers lifted us up during a surgery followed by a short period of twice-daily radiation. Friends said and wrote and did encouraging things as they had opportunity. Tammi and I were soberly reminded of how much we love each other. My granddaughter’s adoption was finalized in the midst of all this after an anxious and overlong period of not being sure if it would go through. It did, and we have many people to thank for it—much to thank God for. After my daughter’s twins were born (by definition a high-risk pregnancy), one of those little girls struggled to breathe on occasion. She was in the hospital for nearly a month. It was stressful but we were surrounded by families who couldn’t even hold their babies (we could) and nurses who were pastoral in their care for stressed-out parents (and grandparents) and sick babies. The little girl came home; she and her sister are fattening up nicely. Our “thank you” list is long but so is our list of things for which we can only thank God. I’m glad to be past it rejoicing but I’m also grateful to have seen the best in scores of friends, church members from two or three churches, and family members.

And then there is Hurricane Harvey. The impact of this enormous event has made me more sympathetic to those in other Gulf Coast states that experience this kind of thing more often than we do in Texas. Our state’s economy was wounded in ways just now healing. The state convention has felt the tension of increased opportunities to help and decreased missions giving related at least somewhat to Harvey. It was a statewide event days before the water stopped rising. I spoke last week with a happy lady who is living in a house with floors stripped to the pad and unpainted drywall. Thousands of families and a few churches are still displaced and many will have to start over. But I also talked with pastors who waded to church to open the doors to their neighbors who had to flee rising water. Some of these churches had nothing to offer but a dry place to sleep. One church told of sending a member out in a bass boat to find food to feed those sheltering in their building. Many, scores of our churches, immediately got to work after the water receded a bit. They cleaned out, hauled off, disinfected and did a little restoration in the homes of their church members and neighbors. It was an overt and unmistakable expression of God’s love reflected into all those around. And over 400 people that we know of professed Christ as Lord during the time that our folks were ministering to them. Other state conventions sent volunteers and gave generously to help our churches. The devastation of the region and sorrow of those affected made more conspicuous the glory of God revealed in the love of his people. It’s left a mark on millions but it has been a spiritual high point in the lives of many.

The shootings at First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, were also a historic event, at least in scale, for our country and state. Nobody could be unmoved by the pain caused on that November Sunday. But God gave grace and power far beyond our ability to understand. The pastor and his family showed amazing courage through the funerals for their daughter and many of their own friends. The community came together to grieve, and national and state leaders showed up to acknowledge the sovereignty of God over the healing of souls. When asked by a reporter why a large prayer rally was helpful, I told her that it served the same purpose as a funeral: It reminded us that we are all mortal and that our hope is in the God of heaven. Our state and our nation were reminded of those immutable facts. It is a valuable lesson and always hard-won.

So don’t be bitter about how things have gone this year. Don’t despair that next year won’t be any better. Some of us have learned this year a bit more about how to rejoice in the Lord always. When we grumble there are always things for which we can honestly thank the Lord. I’d like to see more of that in social media next year, gratitude I mean. These messengers of Satan teach us that God’s strength is sufficient when all creation violently heaves in the aftermath of sin. Never stop being amazed at the provision of God when those things happen—the provision of rescue in some cases, healing in some cases, but comfort and hope in all cases for those who love him.