Keeping Your Eyes Open, by Eric Elder…

Part 2 of “How to Keep Trusting God, Even in the Face of Significant Loss”

Last week I shared two stories and a conclusion with you about how God has been helping me to keep the hardest parts of life from overshadowing the best parts about it.  (If you missed the message, you can still read it here, as it may have been, based on the responses I’ve gotten, one of the most significant messages I’ve shared.)

This week, I’d like  to follow up on that message and share a few more stories to help you keep trusting God, even in the face of significant loss.  I know you may not have lost a spouse like I have, but you may be facing something just as challenging in your own life, whether it’s a divorce, a broken relationship, a wayward son or daughter, a job loss, a change in health, or the loss of a dream that meant the world to you.

In any case, I want to encourage you to keep your eyes open to what God is doing all around you.  Even though you may not see God doing what you expect Him to do in one particular area, if you can see God at work in other ways, it can help you to keep putting your trust in Him.

I believe this is what Jesus did for John the Baptist when John was in prison and facing the very real possibility of death.  Up to this point, John had thought that Jesus was the one who was going to save God’s people.  But something about being in prison seemed to have made John wonder if what he had previously thought was true.  John sent his followers to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3)  After all, didn’t Jesus come to “set the captives free” (Luke 4:18)?  And wasn’t John a captive, in need of freedom?

But Jesus sent a message back to John, saying,

“Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of Me” (Matthew 11:4-6).

It’s as if Jesus was reminding John of all the things that God was doing all around him, and even if God didn’t do what John may have thought He should do, John could still trust Him to do what was right.  When Jesus said, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of Me,” it’s almost as if Jesus was saying, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of what they think I should or should not be doing.”  Sometimes we’re so focused on one area of our lives that we miss what God is doing in other areas.

It turns out that John wasn’t set free the way others in the Bible were, like Daniel when he was rescued from the lions’ den (Daniel 6), or Peter when an angel led him out of jail (Acts 12), or Paul and Silas when an earthquake loosened their chains and caused the prison doors to fly open (Acts 16).  In John’s case, he only lived long enough to hear back from Jesus that God was indeed still on the job and working in the world.

I believe it was just what John needed to hear in order to face what he had to face: his own imminent death.

It may have seemed like John had lost his faith there at the end.  But coming to Jesus with his doubts didn’t mean he lost his faith.  It was an expression of his faith.  It showed that John still looked to Jesus for answers, even in the face of circumstances he couldn’t understand.  If this was a test of John’s faith, I believe he passed with flying colors, as Jesus said of him:

“I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist…” (Matthew 11:11a).

I don’t know if the trial that my wife Lana just went through was a test, or simply the result of living in a world that’s been subjected to sin and sickness and decay.  But if it was a test, I believe she passed with flying colors, keeping her faith in Christ to the end.  Now I’m praying that I’ll be able to pass with flying colors, too.

One of the ways I’m trying to do that is by doing what Jesus told John to do:  to keep his eyes open to the work that Jesus was still doing in the world and not to base his conclusions on what he thought Jesus should or should not be doing.

Let me share just a few brief stories of what I’ve seen God doing lately, some of which may seem trivial, but in the face of the loss that I’ve had, even the smallest glimpses of God are worth more than gold to me.

A few weeks ago I was helping my kids do some late-night craft projects:  tie-dying a dress with my daughter and making rubber squishy bugs with my son.  I was already worn out from the day, and going back and forth on these two projects was wearing me down further.  I wanted to help them, but I was definitely missing Lana and the help that she would have been in moments like these.

At one point, I went upstairs to take a break, and as I passed a mirror, I noticed the temporary reading glasses I was wearing, as I had lost my usual ones a few weeks earlier.  As I looked in the mirror I decided it was time to order a new pair, as I hadn’t been able to find my old pair.  On the way back down the stairs to the basement where my daughter was tie-dying her dress, I paused on the steps, reached my hand up to heaven, and said, “Lana, help me!”  (I know it’s God that helps us, but I still find myself talking to Lana in heaven, especially at times like this.)  Then I continued on down the stairs.

As I got down on my hands and knees on the cold cement floor of the basement to help with the tie-dying project, I happened to look to my left and there, hanging on some bottles of soap and shampoo under the basement sink, were my glasses that had been missing for weeks!  Had I not been doing these projects with the kids, down on my hands and knees on the cold cement floor of the basement, I never would have found them!  And had I not remembered the conversation with myself in the mirror upstairs just a few minutes earlier, and my quick call for help from heaven as I walked down the steps again, I wouldn’t have put my prayer and the answer together either.  My whole outlook on helping the kids for the rest of the night changed in that instant.  It was as if a little reward had been dropped out of heaven and was dangling on the bottles of soap in front of me.

That might not seem like a God-moment to you, and it may not have seemed like one to me, either, if this was the first time something like this had happened.  But just a few weeks earlier, when I was recovering from the flu and getting ready to start back into homeschooling our three youngest kids again for the first time since Lana died, I had reached up to heaven as well.  After gathering up literally dozens of books from around the house that the kids use for school, we were still missing two book.  Again, in an act of desperation more than anything else, I looked up to heaven and said, “Lana, help me!”  Within minutes we found the two missing books.  They had appeared practically out of thin air.

But more than that, after we found those two missing books, one of my sons wanted to take a break and do some kind of “outside project.”  Even though the temperature was literally below freezing outside, I said, “OK, let’s fix that broken pole on the trampoline.”  It wasn’t a very practical idea, as it was too cold to actually jump on the trampoline, but it was the first thing that came to mind that would be quick and easy enough to get us back inside before we froze, too.

So we went out into the freezing cold to start working on the trampoline pole and I happened to look up into the net above us.  There, hanging at the top of the net, were my daughter’s prescription glasses that had been missing since Lana’s funeral more than two months earlier!  It was as if they had been dropped down from heaven and got caught in the net for us to find!  How they had survived the cold and the wind and the snow for two months, I didn’t know.  But what I did know was that within minutes of calling out to heaven for help, I had found two missing schoolbooks AND a pair of missing glasses!  All the while trying to help my kids, which was something I needed to do and wanted to do, but was having trouble working up the strength to do.  But the moment I saw those glasses in the net, my whole perspective on the day changed.  I knew God was at work and I was able to find the strength to go on.

And just this past week, as the weather has started to get nicer here in Illinois, I was walking around the yard with a friend who’s spent years in the landscaping business, asking his advice about where and what kind of trees we could plant around the house.  This was a project that Lana and I had been wanting to do for some time.  To be honest, it was hard to even think about planting trees, as sometimes it feels like the dreams and plans I had with Lana died when she died.  But I have to remember that I didn’t die, and that God may still want me to keep some of those shared dreams and plans alive, too.

So there we were, walking around the yard and sharing ideas, when my daughter reached down and found a charm on the ground for a charm bracelet.  Then she found another a few feet away, and then a third a few feet from that.  They still had the tags on them, as we had bought them for her birthday party the month before, but we had lost them somewhere between the store and the house during a snowstorm that night.  Now here they were, out in the middle of the yard, hundreds of feet from the house, as we were trying to plan and continue the dream of planting more trees in the yard!

Again, it may seem trivial to you (and perhaps it makes you wonder why we keep losing so many things!)  But to me, it was as if God was saying, “Yes, this is exactly what I want you to be doing, walking around the yard and planning where to put trees for the future!  Keep moving forward on the dreams that you and Lana shared, and keep going on all that I have called you to do in your life!  You’ll be blessed as you do these things, as will others when you’re done doing them!”

It’s like Jesus keeps telling me, like He seemed to be telling John the Baptist, to keep my eyes open to the things that He’s doing in the world, and to keep on trusting Him, even in the face of all that I’ve lost.

I could share a dozen more stories from the past four months since Lana died where I’ve seen God at work in such small ways that it’s changed my outlook on everything else going on around me, but I’ll let these suffice to encourage you to keep your eyes open to the things God is doing in your life, and the lives of those around you.

Someday I hope to be like the grandfather who was out fishing with his grandson when at one point the grandson asked his grandfather if he had ever seen God.  The grandfather gazed out across the lake where they were sitting and answered, “The older I get, the more I see Him everywhere I look.”

Don’t be discouraged when you don’t see God at work in your life the way you think He should be working.  Don’t give up on Him because things don’t always go your way.  Don’t think for a minute that He doesn’t love you because you’ve lost something precious in your life.  As the Bible says,

“He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all–how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).

As we head into Passion Week, this week before Easter when Jesus experienced some of the most intense pain and suffering that this world has to offer, remember that you’re not alone.  Jesus knows what it’s like to suffer and die.  He knows what it’s like to lose people who are close to you, like He did when He lost Lazarus and John the Baptist.  In the case of Lazarus, Jesus raised him back to life.  In the case of John the Baptist, Jesus spoke words of encouragement so he could face his death with faith.

And in all things, remember that God really does love you and has a unique calling and purpose for your life.  Keep your eyes open.  The more you do, the more you’ll see Him everywhere you look.

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