In the past couple of weeks I have been reminded what things really count in life, and how things that seem important are really way down on the "gotta have" list. For years now I (and others) have been praying for my son, Chris, to develop a real desire and passion to know and follow Christ. He has always believed Christ and the spiritual dimension of life are important, but he has had difficulty seeing how all this made any real difference in his life, the church, and the world. He saw the church as mostly people putting on a religious front, and that for most people it didn't seem to matter or make much difference that Christ "...for us and for our salvation, came down from heaven..." (as the Nicene Creed states).
Well, that all changed about three weeks ago when he encountered a very traumatic situation in one of his closest relationships. The pain of this event caused him to realise his need for God's help, his powerlessness in the face of tragedy, and that without Christ he cannot truly offer his suffering friends any real help or hope. He suddenly could see how much God loved him, how empty life is when lived for self alone, and how full life can be when lived as a follower of Jesus. It is only a short time, I know, but the change in my son is thorough-going and dramatic. Though the pain of his trauma continues, he has discovered the joy of the Lord as one who is thankful to God for all that is good in his life. His gratefulness for God and God's goodness keeps him going and growing each day, and he is even sharing this hope with his friends.
So, for me, while I ache for the pain he is going through, I am extremely glad to have Chris seeking after God in his life. My heart is full of joy when he says to me, "Let's pray together about this, Dad." I can very much identify with the verse in the Book of Proverbs that says,
My son, if your heart is wise,
then my heart will be glad;
my inmost being will rejoice
when your lips speak what is right.
This gladness in what is happening with Chris was challenged to the limit when I received a message two days ago that, if it had been true, would have meant the end of my service as minister in the PCUSA, and, due to the character damaging nature of the news, could easily have meant the end of my service as a minister anywhere. It is not appropriate to divulge the content of this message, but as it stood it would have been dealing with heartbreaking betrayal of trusted colleagues, and would have opened up some very demoralizing old wounds from a past disappointment in ministry. Plus, the blow to my ability to provide for my family at a time when the needs are critical (daughter's college bills, son's paralysis, etc) would have lined us up for great disaster and loss.
However, despite the dark prospects of what I had been told, I wasn't worried. I wasn't afraid. Oh, yes I was shaken, and, yes I was dreading the future implications of the bad news. Yet it faded in importance compared to the joy of having a son who is seeking the heart of God, who is passionate about Jesus and desires to follow Him faithfully. A crisis in career and livelihood can never rate above a son whose "heart is wise."
As I was seeking to verify the accuracy of the gloomy message I had received, God brought to my mind several of the encouraging words of Psalm 37. The Psalmist describes how easy it is to get upset about the evil that people do, to focus on wrong and to become angry in reaction to what appears to be people's hateful intentions. Over and over, this scripture says, "Don't fret!" Don't over react, don't even worry about what people can do to you. Rather, the Spirit through this scripture urges me to "Trust in the Lord and do good." I am told to "delight yourself in the Lord," "be still," "wait patiently," and "to commit your way to the Lord." With these actions God promises to give us "the desires of your heart." God will "make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun." All we are asked to do is "don't fret."
As things turned out, I found out that the very foreboding word I had received was indeed an error. A mix up in information coupled with an even more twisted misunderstanding of conversations between Presbyterian officials gave birth to a most malicious falsehood about me and about my work as a minister. If a sincere and thoughtful person in a presbytery far, far away hadn't been willing to call me and let me know what was being said about me in error, who knows how much damage could have been done. Through his action, the mistake was caught, and the committees and officials involved able to rectify the situation.
The interesting thing for me was that I did trust in the Lord and did commit my way to God in the face of what sounded and seemed like a very ominous threat to my personal and professional welfare. I was able to do this because my heart is not made glad by my reputation or career accomplishments, but by a son whose "lips speak what is right." That is what is really important! That is what is truly worthwhile! Indeed, as the 39th verse of Psalm 37 clearly declares:
The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
He is their stronghold in time of trouble.