During January, our church did a new sermon series called “God is Great: stories of God empowering people @ EFC.” This series has absolutely blown my mind! After serving as a Senior Pastor for six years, I am seeing the goodness of God in new and deeper ways. It all happened because four people shared their personal testimonies of how they overcame tremendous hardships through prayer and dependence on God’s grace. As I give you the cliff notes, I hope these Bible passages and stories give you encouragement for the challenges you are facing. They all point to the Greatness of our God!
During the first Sunday (January 13), we studied Psalm 116:1—11 where the Psalmist admitted facing a crisis and felt “anguished and overcome with sorrow.” Yet even during his crisis, he cried out to God for help. He didn’t drift away from God, but he clung to God in prayer. Old Testament scholar J.A. Motyer says “faith working by prayer remains the greatest force available to God’s earthly people.” Eventually, God rescued the Psalmist and thus Psalm 116 teaches us that “God is good: he listens to you and delivers you.”
After exploring this Psalm, a couple shared their testimony with the congregation. They got pregnant with their fourth child but quickly discovered their daughter had a genetic defect, meaning she had a slim chance of surviving before reaching full term. Consequently, a few doctors advised them to end the pregnancy early. But after much prayer, the couple felt peace knowing they could trust God’s goodness and sovereignty. They believed God would either take their daughter home on His timetable or allow them to deliver her full-term in whatever condition He saw fit. In the end, their daughter died in the womb early in the pregnancy due to her complications, the mother delivered her and they buried her. God used this situation to strengthen their trust in him and cultivate in them a deeper sense of empathy and compassion for anyone who has faced similar circumstances.
During the second Sunday (January 20) we studied Psalm 88 where the Psalmist blamed God for abandoning him in “the pit.” We called this God’s “ministry of hiding.” St. John of the Cross called it “the dark night of the soul”; Henri Nouwen the “the ministry of absence”; A.W. Tozer the “the ministry of the night.” It is in the pit where we learn to patiently persevere in our faith. Thankfully, the Psalmist kept praying to God. From his example we learned that “When you’re in the pit, don’t quit: keep praying.”
Afterwards, a high school Senior shared of her recent struggle with depression. She felt abandoned by God as she experienced great sadness and loneliness. Yet she recovered over time through Christian counseling and many people reading the Bible to her and praying over her.
This past Sunday we finished this series by examining Psalm 18 where God rescued King David from his enemies. It was only in the weakness of being trapped and threatened with death that David learned that God is our rock, fortress, deliverer, refuge, shield, horn of salvation and stronghold. David taught us the importance of “praising God for his strength and rescue.”
Then a mother of three children (whose husband is currently stationed in the Pacific) shared of her many medical crises and surgeries. It all culminated in February of 2012 when she almost died after a major surgery at Newport Hospital. During the time she was under anesthesia and unconscious, she met Jesus Christ in heaven. She experienced, first-hand, his love, beauty, power and glory. She was following him into the gates of Heaven until she heard her son crying in the hospital room. She told Jesus she had to go back, that her time on earth wasn’t complete. He understood, released her and she woke up in the hospital room with her family by her side. She told the congregation: “Jesus is real and heaven is real and they are indescribable.” Through tears of joy, she urged all of us to trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. There was not a dry eye in the two services when she spoke.
All four people bore testimony to God’s goodness and grace in the painful circumstances of their lives. Whatever you may be facing at the beginning of 2013, they would urge you to press into God in prayer because our God is great!