How life taught me the value of spiritually walking with God daily, rather than simply seeking Him in times of need.
In moments of crisis we instinctively and without reservation, reach out to God for help. In the middle of the crisis, we are willing to do anything to avert the catastrophe before us. Yet, God remains steadfast in all things, waiting for us to turn to Him with the same longing He has for each of us.
They’re called “foxhole prayers.” You know them. You’ve more than likely prayed them a time or two in your life. I know I have. From deep in the trenches, like a soldier facing the enemy, “God, if you could just please get me out of this, I swear, I’ll never (insert sacrifice here), or I promise I will (insert promise here) for the rest of my life. Just please (insert request here).”
Praying in times of need is a natural and almost second-nature thing for Christians. We pray for deliverance for ourselves or for those we love, from pain, illness, suffering; any number of hardships. We willingly go to our knees in prayer during times of crisis, as though we suddenly remember God’s presence. We eagerly reach out for the miracles and the answers so greatly needed at the moment. The storm passes. In the aftermath we grieve, we celebrate, we seek answers to the questions, to the many “why’s” left behind. Our need for God is so great in those moments that we know no other way.
In my own life, I have lifted many foxhole prayers. I’ve bargained with God, made countless promises that at the moment I meant to keep. God did His part. He delivered me from the crisis, averted the catastrophe, or at times, just sheltered me through it. My life continued forward, and as the immediate pain, loss or brokenness lessened, I turned to Him less, forgot to seek His presence daily, didn’t give thanks, and more importantly, didn’t follow through on the promises I had made.
Did God abandon me? No. Did other moments of crisis arise? Yes. Over and over again, the cycle repeated. God stood patiently and remained steadfast. I was the one who waivered.
I’ve come to the realization that these moments that force us to our knees are not punishment or God departing from us, as we often believe. Instead, they are catalysts to a deeper and more meaningful relationship with our Creator.
God doesn’t make bad things happen. This life was not meant to be free from pain and suffering. The enemy exists. The forces of evil in this world want nothing more than for us to turn our backs on God. Think about it, even Jesus Christ encountered temptation during His earthly life, and more importantly, He suffered.
2 Corinthians 4:17 reminds us that, “For our momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 1 Peter 5:10 says, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
These scriptures remind us that while suffering is part of life, it is not forever. More importantly, that God understands this and will Himself strengthen and restore us.
Peter Bowles, the author of, The Sheltering Sky, wrote beautiful words as a gentle reminder that we’re only given a limited number of moments in this life. Each moment is a priceless gift, unlimited in possibility, but limited nonetheless in the number we receive.
But because we don’t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. And yet it all seems limitless. Then suddenly, and sometimes in the most painful ways, you’re reminded just how fleeting life truly is. It’s in those moments that you find yourself clinging to the ones you let slip through your grasp, the ones you failed to appreciate, the ones you took for granted, simply because, in that inexhaustible well of life, you believed you had a million more.Peter Bowles, The Sheltering Sky
Is our relationship with God any different? Is our seeking His grace in times of need yet discounting His presence when the storm has passed simply a result of our belief that we exist in that inexhaustible well, that we have a million more opportunities to pray; to “get right” with God?
I’ve been guilty of this very attitude many times in my life. Looking back now, I realize that in the moments I was the farthest from Him, life intervened, and inevitably called me back, sometimes in the most painful ways.
Within a short five-year period, my life altered in ways I’d never imagined. In heartbreaking and devastating ways that shook the very foundations of my belief. Within all the turmoil, there was but one constant. One, and only one, path out of the darkness. I turned to God over and over again. It was through my fervent and repeated reliance on Him that I finally understood the sustaining power of surrender found not just in prayer, but in daily communion with God.
In 2013, after a four-year battle with breast cancer, my beautiful niece, Cassy passed away at the age of 33. A year later, my sweet sister-in-law, Monica, succumbed to brain cancer. She was just 56. The following year, our then 17-year-old daughter, Emma was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. For almost a year we lived at Shand’s Children’s Hospital in Gainesville, FL as she underwent treatment. Through God’s grace, we brought her home in the fall of 2016 cancer-free. A few months after returning home, in January of 2017, the unexpected and violent loss of my best friend, Alisa, was for me, the final straw.
These events came sweeping in, one after another. I was overwhelmed, angry and exhausted. There were moments when I thought I could not withstand even one more thing. Moments that shook my faith so violently, that I thought I’d never be whole again. Moments that forced me to my knees, reaching out to the only one who could comfort and strengthen me during the storm’s devastating force.
How small I felt. Helpless and hopeless, my soul cried out to the only one who could help me make sense of each loss, each trial. In those moments I realized with aching clarity, how very small I am in the grand scheme of things; how very little control I have.
These trials brought me to my knees, yes, but that is exactly where I needed to be. I’ve come to realize, as my walk with God continues to grow, that in suffering, I so willingly and easily call on Him. He is always there, and He does always answer. The answers often very different than the ones I prayed for, but He answers nonetheless.
The thing is, God sees our pain and suffering. He knows the whole of our hearts. He sees our struggles. Knows when we are hurting. Knows before we ever do, where the path ahead will lead. He waits for us, loves us completely, and longs for us to come to Him. Not just during the storms, but in all things.
Isaiah 43:2 reminds us, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
As I passed through what felt, at times, like raging rivers and burning fires, God never abandoned me. He provided the strength. He comforted me through the tears. He sustained me through each storm. Even in the darkest moments, I witnessed His presence, his hand moving through my life. As I turned to Him over and over again, He was there.
Cassy was a young wife and mother at the time of her death. She was also in her final year of nursing school. Cassy had the words, “Walk by Faith” tattooed on her right foot. I witnessed her live those words, through her illness, through her determination to finish what she’d started, and most importantly, in her daily walk with God. Instead of feeling sorry for herself and the hand she had been dealt, she used it to bring glory to God and to fulfill His purpose for her life, no matter the outcome of her illness. Even in her darkest hours, God’s light shone through.
During her illness, my daughter, Emma, would weather chemo, undergo numerous visits to the hospital, lose her hair, and her eyebrows. She would emerge with many new scars. I watched her withstand it all, maintaining a positive attitude and high spirits even when she was at her lowest physically. I’ve come to understand that the ever-present source of her bravery and strength was her unfailing faith and trust in God. Her complete belief that He was with her, that this journey had a purpose, and though she didn’t know the outcome, she knew that no matter what, God had her firmly in His grasp. Again, God’s light shone through.
After Alisa’s death, we came together in a beautiful Celebration of Life in her honor. Her death was a soul-shattering act of violence. Rather than focus on the way she died, we instead focused on the beauty of her life. On the gratitude, we felt for having known and loved her. On the many ways, she gave back to her community and to others. There was standing room only at the church in which the celebration was held. When her children (15 and 19 at the time) rose to speak of their mother, a feeling of such overwhelming peace and love flowed through the room that there was no doubt of God’s presence in that place. The words of forgiveness and love that her son conveyed at that moment were a testament to his mother and to his faith in God. I believe his words changed hearts and lives that day.
In each of these moments, I witnessed the overwhelming and abiding love and light of God. In Exodus 33:14 God reminds Moses of His faithfulness in all things, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Perhaps one of the most devastating events we as a community experienced occurred on October 10, 2018, when Category 5 Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle leaving a swath of utter destruction and chaos in his wake. Entire communities were wiped out by his vicious winds and storm surge.
My church family, Bayside, not only lost our original building in the storm, but the new building we’d just purchased sustained massive damage as well. We were without a physical church building, but not without a church home. We met in the parking lot, we met in donated spaces, we joined together in thanksgiving for deliverance from the storm, and also to assist those in need.
We felt God’s presence in each other and in our community as a whole as we came together after such staggering loss to spread hope and to remind ourselves that God was with us through the storm and remains steadfast in the aftermath.
Prayer is our pathway into the fullness of God’s light and His mercy. In times of hardship and struggle, He beckons us to seek Him. In times of abundance and joy, He longs for us to commune with Him. The key to all prayers, I believe, is found in the sincerity and humility with which we submit ourselves to Him.
Whether we are crying out from the foxhole, or on bended knee in thanksgiving and praise, He is faithful. “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations,” Deuteronomy 7:9.
My journey has come full-circle, thanks to the daily reminders I receive from my Creator. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart,” (Jeremiah 29: 11-13).
Whether from the foxhole, from the mountaintop, or while sitting in my car, I seek God with all my heart. My desire to grow and flourish within His presence and to seek Him in every moment, regardless of what may be occurring, has provided me with a peace I have never before experienced.
I know without any question or doubt that God hears our prayers, he knows our hearts, and He always answers.