Psalm 146:1-5; Romans 15:13
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
Roy Burkhart was a pastor through-and-through. More importantly, Dr. Burkhart was a Christian through-and-through.
One day, a man was giving him a ride to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Just as they were crossing the Susquehanna River, the man pointed to the flowing water below, and said, “I was baptized in that river forty years ago. It was the best day in my life.” “I’m sure that was a tremendous day!” Dr. Burkhart exclaimed with a bright smile. Then, after pausing a polite second to see if the man wanted to elaborate, Dr. B asked, “Would you like to know the best day in my life?” “Sure!” the man replied with an eager nod. Dr. B responded with a big grin and a heart-felt answer! “The best day in my life,” he declared, “is always tomorrow!”
What Dr. Burkhart was saying was this: Because God is so faithful in His love and so endlessly extravagant in His generosity, those who walk with Him expect that, no matter how great their experiences of God’s grace in the past, even greater experiences of God’s grace await them in the future. Sure, Dr. B was thinking of heaven, the ultimate destination of God’s friends; but he was also thinking of the ongoing adventure of following God’s Son here on earth. Dr. B so believed in the infinite magnificence of God’s greatness and goodness that he believed that everyone who kept walking with God would keep discovering deeper and deeper levels of that greatness and goodness. In other words, because there was no limit to God’s kindness and power, there should be no limit to looking forward to a life with Him growing better and better.
Now, Dr. Burkhart was a realist, and was fully aware that in any number of ways certain aspects of our life might be getting worse rather than better. In fact, at that very moment they were crossing the Susquehanna, Dr. B was keenly in touch with how he didn’t feel nearly as well as he once had and how some of his strength and abilities had diminished. He also knew what it was like to lose a precious loved one for whom there was no substitute. He had seen with his own eyes how even God’s closest friends suffer setbacks in health, finances, standing with others, and the like.
When Dr. Burkhart said he was always anticipating his best day to be still ahead of him, he was not denying that some yesterday of the past had had more worldly happiness, more freedom from pain, less interpersonal conflict, less anxiety, etc. He was saying that, when you share your life with God, your inner joy, serenity, sense of meaning and purpose, etc. never stops growing – and thus your life at its deepest point never stops getting better until it becomes perfectly good in heaven. Because there’s no end to how wonderful God is, there’s no end to how wonderful our life here and now can become – even in the face of increased trials and tribulations, pain and suffering, deprivation and loss. Despite this world’s harshness and hardship, we can still hope that the best is yet to come.
Though I have these past fifty-some days since surgery been deeply touched and uplifted by the prayers and loving concern of so many of you, and though I have these past fifty-some days had some of the sweetest times one-on-one with God that I have ever had, it has been a very rough time with lots of pain and exhaustion.
From the very beginning of this sometimes miserable process, however, I have been trying to follow the command of Romans 12:12 and “rejoice in hope.” I don’t have it in me to rejoice in not being able to sleep at night because the pain is so sharp or in enduring a throbbing aching in my knees just from standing longer than half a minute. But I can – at least, at my better moments – rejoice that after these few months of agony (mild agony, by the way, compared to some people’s) are over, I will be delivered from the constant pain that has bedeviled me for years, and I will have stronger and healthier legs by which to serve the Lord. Short-term pain for long-term gain sounds like a no-brainer to me. In the big picture it looks like a big blessing to me. I do in fact have good reason to rejoice in hope.
For all who walk with Jesus, we always have good reason to rejoice in hope, to expect that our best days are yet ahead of us, to anticipate that the greatest day of our life hasn’t happened yet. Though the days ahead may involve loss and suffering, they are governed by a God who is alive, active and adept at working in all things, even bad things, for good, who often becomes the most real to us and the most wonderful to us in the deepest moments of distress, who loves us enough to deprive us of some things in order to multiply our overall assets for happiness and to introduce us to new blessings of which we had no inkling before.
Whoever it was that wrote Psalm 146 understood all this. That’s why he was resolved to sing God’s praises “as long as I live” (as he puts it in one line) or “all my life long” (as he puts it in another). This friend of God knew better than to put his trust in even the most powerful human beings – or himself – for he knew God is always the most valuable and most helpful person on whom to rely. This friend of God was wise enough to see that no one else and nothing else could make him happier (in the highest sense) or richer (in the best sense).
That’s why this friend of God sings the last beatitude of the many found in the Psalms, crying out with joy: “Happy are those…whose hope is in the Lord their God.”
Those who keep walking with God through the ups and downs of this often tough world are those for whom life, despite its worst, keeps getting better and better, even into eternity, or (as the great theologian Buzz Lightyear put it) “to infinity and beyond”.
Such people experience the reality of the benediction of Romans 15:13. They are filled by “the God of hope” “with all joy and peace”, and they always and everywhere “abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”.
Let us defy the hard knocks life delivers and “rejoice in hope”. After all, when we walk with God, tomorrow will always be our best day yet!