The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
May 5, 2019
Psalm 30 is a happy Psalm which celebrates that – though a life lived under God’s care and control knows its share of adversity and pain – it will always be blessed with joyful hope and uplifted into praise and thanks.
David here recollects how God has been a very present help in trouble. David recounts how God delivered him from defeat, not letting his foes rejoice over him (verse 1); from disease, healing him (verse 2); from death itself, restoring him to life (verse 3); from hard discipline, making divine anger last but a moment, but divine favor for a lifetime (verses 4-5a); from darkness, letting weeping linger for the night but bringing joy in the morning (verse 5b); and from distance between him and God, hiding His glorious face for a period but drawing near again to give grace (verses 6 through 10). God has, David says, turned his mourning into dancing, his sackcloth into party clothes, and his laments into songs of praise.
David’s testimony encourages us to believe that God’s love will always have the last word and that we will in His mercy be delivered and uplifted.
We do well then to hope because of God’s mercy.
But we also do well always to beware of our expectations of how God’s mercy will show up in our life. God can always be counted to do what is best for us, but sometimes what is best for us is a mercy that is severe, painful and in the short-run seemingly destructive rather than life-enhancing. Thus, our trust has to be more in who God is than in what God does. For the blessing of what God does, while always full of love, is often clouded over in mystery and invisible to sight.
In 2015, Pastor Ed Dobson died from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Back in the year 2000, doctors diagnosed him withit, gave him no more than five years to live, and predicted he’d spend most of them terribly disabled.
Upon hearing that diagnosis, Ed sought out someone to pray for his healing. He wanted someone with a strong faith in God’s ability to do something supernatural and to defy modern science’s certainties.
So Ed invited a friend, a Pentecostal pastor who regularly held healing services, to come over and pray for him. In Ed’s book, Seeing through the Fog, an honest but faith-filled telling of his long and ultimately losing battle against ALS, he described what happened on that visit:
“It was one of the most moving evenings of my entire life. [My friend] began by telling stories of people he’d prayed for who were miraculously healed. He also told stories about people he’d prayed for who were not healed and had passed away….Before he prayed for me, he gave me some advice: ‘Don’t be obsessed with getting healed, Ed. If you get obsessed with [getting healed], you will lose your focus. Get lost in the wonder of God, and who knows what he will do for you?’”
Ed wrote, “This is some of the best advice I have ever received….Since that night, I’ve been trying to get – and stay – lost in the wonder of God.”
Perhaps the most marvelous miracle of Ed’s life was that, for most of the last nineteen years of it, he stayed lost in the wonder of God. Because he focused on the unchangeable character and unlimited power of the God for whom nothing is impossible and who thus might do anything, he both ruled out nothing and presumed nothing. He both accepted his diagnosis and stood ready to be surprised. He kept believing that God might either do something spectacularly miraculous such as delivering him from the disease or do something mysteriously miraculous such as leaving him in its darkness that he might shine a bright light of witness to the glory of the God who is a very present help in trouble.
Actually, God has by now done both things for Ed.
In the resurrection to eternal life, God healed Ed in every way, giving him a new body that will never be touched by disease, disability, distress or decline.
Before that resurrection, God empowered Ed, through both productive times and times of incapacitation, through both delightful times and hard times, to keep hoping in the God who works for good in every kind of time and every kind of circumstance. God enabled Ed to hold on to the One who holds the future even while Ed was in the dark about what the future would hold. God also enabled Ed to hold on to any specific hope he had with a loose grip even while Ed continued to hope for the best.
Ed Dobson knew God and trusted in who God is – even when he didn’t know anything else besides God, even when he was ignorant not only of what would but also of what should happen.
Ed kept giving God thanks and praise like David, both during the decade of active and fruitful ministry he had long after the time the most optimistic medical diagnoses predicted, and during the last several years of his earthly life when the ALS got the best of him, rendered him unable to do most of what he had always done, brought dark anguish upon him and his family, and drove him at last into an early death.
Whatever other miracles God did, God made Ed Dobson a miracle: a breathing, walking miracle; and a disabled, dying miracle. Like Job, Ed could say, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” Like David, Ed could say, He has “turned my mourning into dancing” and “taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy”; and “I will give thanks to [the Lord my God]” forever.
May we all become like that brother!