WHEN GOD ENDS OUR PRAYERS WITH A “NO”
A number of years ago when I was a Christian school administrator in Idaho, I had the privilege of personally getting to know one of my faithful school moms, Laura Crow. She was one of a few moms who passed away that year…but during that whole school year in the midst of her battle with cancer, she consistently cared for her children, held onto improbable hope, and protested little about her terminal condition. The year’s events surrounding Laura seemed like a piece of tapestry (a piece of art, woven together by threads…the backside of which can appear confused and snarled). The intertwining blend of hope and discouragement was a tangle of mixed emotions. One moment it seemed like Laura might recover from her cancer, while the next moment promised only a few short months. During this challenging time, many rallied to support her. School moms, staff, and friends prayed for Laura, brought food to her family, drove her children to school, and gave continual words of encouragement.
In the spring a few of us gathered together in my office after school to conduct a healing service for her. We all laid hands on her (Matthew 7:7-8)and asked God to take the cancer from her body. It was a precious time that will never be forgotten. For a while Laura seemed to improve, but it did not last long. Her cancer worsened and finally she was hospitalized. Her pain grew unbearable, which moved some of us to pray, “Please take her quickly, Lord.” God did just that; He took her to heaven only a few days after school ended.
The times we had with Laura were unforgettable. I remember how funny and brave she was. Linda (one of her close friends) shared how one day Laura poured ice down her back during a critical doctor’s visit. Linda asked, “Why would you do such a thing during such a serious appointment?” and Laura responded, “So you won’t forget this moment.” On another occasion when Laura visited my office, I took a chance and cracked a joke about her cancer. I told her that the entire state of Idaho would never suffer an energy crisis like California as long as she hung around. All Idaho had to do was plug into her for its power needs. Her response was not surprising; she could not stop laughing. In regard to her bravery, I remember a conversation I had with Laura at the funeral of another mother (Michelle) who had died of cancer the previous December. When I saw her at Michelle’s funeral, I was surprised and asked her to share her observations. Laura said, “I simply want to see how Michelle’s children respond to their mother’s passing and what it would be like from this end to be memorialized by friends and loved ones.” As you can see, Laura was not short of humor or courage.
Because of Laura’s well-chronicled year with us, there are some biblical assurances (The Father’s Assurance, The Gethsemane Assurance, The Helper’s Assurance, The Eden Assurance) that help answer some of the tough questions surrounding her difficult passing. Questions like: Where is Laura now? Why was it not God’s will to heal her? What help is there for those left behind? What enabled Laura to enter heaven?
The Father’s Assurance (Where is Laura now?)
There is a promise from God (Father, Son, Spirit) that when a believer dies, he/she will immediately be put in the presence of God the Father (I Thessalonians 4:13-14). This is the action the Father has taken with all departed believers throughout the ages, including Moses, Abraham, and now Laura (Matthew 17:1-3). When Laura breathed her last, the Father immediately swooped her up at that moment. What a change she must have experienced; one moment paralyzed with pain and the next liberated in the arms of the Father. She currently remains with Him, along with all those (family members, friends, and other believers) who put their trust in Christ as Savior. The funeral held in Laura’s honor (not long after this “swooping” took place) highlighted Laura’s life, but the old container (body) stationed at the front of a church auditorium did not represent where Laura actually was the day of her funeral. By the time the first prayer was prayed, a praise given, or the Word read at her memorial, Laura was already getting use to a new heavenly body given to her at the “swooping” a few days earlier (I Corinthians 15:40, 44). Her new body was a promise from God and quite necessary because it enables her to continue God’s plan for her life, which began in her mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13, 16).
The Gethsemane Assurance (Why was it not God’s will to heal her?)
Since the Lord decided not to extend Laura’s life for which many of us prayed, what heavenly responsibility was she required to fill that overrode our request? In other words, what is Laura now doing in heaven that is more important than keeping her with her family and us? The answer is we don’t know, and won’t really know until we can see the front portion of this beautiful human tapestry God created in Laura Crow. We are consigned to only seeing Laura’s life tapestry from the back, which appears to us as tangled and intertwined threads of God’s sovereign choices and impeccable decisions (I Cor. 13:12). Therefore, by faith, we accept God’s decision to move her to a superseding work, which is now in heaven. Simply put, God knows what He is doing, and one day all of His decisions will make sense to all of us (Romans 8:28). And who knows, perhaps the mothering Laurawanted to complete with her children on earth may be better accomplished from a heavenly vantage point.
In addition to the confidence we can put in God’s sovereignty during a time of loss, the account at Gethsemane (Mark 14: 32, 34 ,36, 41) helps explain one of the major reasons why God often does not intervene, even when a miraculous healing is being sought. When Jesus entered the garden of Gethsemane, He faced an impending death. In response, He sought deliverance, but the Father could only say, “No,” because a greater predetermined plan was set in motion, one that could save all men (if all responded with repentance) through His sacrificial death. The answer given by God to Jesus (The Gethsemane Assurance) states that when God turns down a request for an extended life, it is only because He has a far greater plan lying in the balance.
The Helper’s Assurance (What help is there for those left behind?)
When Jesus left His disciples to join the Father in heaven (Luke 24:50-51), He promised to leave them with the great “Helper,” the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-18). God has never left any of His loved ones on earth to fend for themselves…and this includes children who lose parents. The article I wrote last month about the orphans I worked with in College is proof of that. When God creates a child, He will complete the job of parenting, either here or in heaven if need be (Philippians 1:6).
The Eden Assurance (What enabled Laura to enter heaven?)
The decision to let the Son die on the cross in order to restore all men to God was not really made at the Garden of Gethsemane 2,000 years ago, but in the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve made their fateful decision to abandon God’s lordship for their own. “Self-lordship” was the “tree” of which God warned them not to partake. But they did so, which then infected the entire human race with inherent sin. Before this terrible choice began to make its impact, God (Father, Son, Spirit) initiated a plan to save and restore Adam and Eve, along with all those born throughout the ages, including Laura Crow. The plan included an eternal punishment for Satan and a restoration for man through the compensating death of the Son (Genesis 3:5-16, Rev. 20:10, 15). It was an incredible price for God to pay, because Jesus (The Son of God) would have to enter the human race, suffer a summit of human pain, and endure humiliation on the cross. His sacrifice though would take care of sin and serve as a bridge for all. Much like Adam and Eve, Laura expressed her regret for her own sin (repentance) and embraced God’s forgiveness and Lordship (Romans 10:9, Mark 1:15). This is why Laura now resides in heaven forever in the presence of God. This is why she will be waiting with the Father at heaven’s door when her believing friends and family enter in the years to come.
Below is a poem my mother gave me years ago, one that I shared with Laura Crow and others like her.
No chance has brought this trial to me, it is God’s sovereign will so let it be,
He sees what I cannot see.
There is a need be for each pain, for earthly loss is heavenly gain.
Like a piece of tapestry, from the back appears to be,
but tangled threads mixed hopelessly.
But in the front a picture fair, rewards the worker for his care.