Psalms: Lessons In Prayer

How To Enjoy Richer, Deeper And Fuller Conversations With God
by Eric Elder

Thirty inspiring devotionals based on the oldest prayer book in the world.

This is our current series! You can read along each week as we’ll be publishing a new message nearly every Sunday in 2017 here on The Ranch. You can read all of the messages we’ve posted below!

 

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CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD
Introduction to Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

I love talking to God. It’s often the highlight of my day.

For some, like my friend Dan Mountney, waking up and talking with God brings focus to everything else that happens in his day. “It centers me,” Dan says.

For some, like Adrian Rogers, talking to God brings clarity to what God wants him to do. When asked by a reporter if God had spoken to Adrian like the reporter had just spoken to him, Adrian replied, “Oh, no! It was much louder than that.”

For some, like Billy Graham, talking with God is like talking with a best friend. “How do you know God exists?” Billy was once asked. “Because I spoke with Him this morning,” he replied.

What about you? How would you rate your conversations with God? As much as I love talking with God, I still feel in many ways that I am just scratching the surface of what my conversations with Him could be like.

Five years ago, my wife Lana and I were talking about prayer. Lana said, “I’d like to learn more about prayer.”

I was stunned. Lana’s prayer life was already deep and rich and full. She prayed continually, in private and out loud, for me, for our family, for our friends, for missionaries, for entire countries. She prayed for breakthroughs and healings and restorations. She prayed for forgiveness and for a greater love for others. Yet with all she had learned about prayer over the years, she still wanted more.

For me, that was Lesson #1 in going deeper in my own prayer life, to simply know that there’s always more.

At that same time, I was wanting to take a closer look at the book of Psalms. What was it about this book that made it one of the most beloved books in the Bible? What secrets did it hold that made publishers often publish it by itself, or pair it as the one Old Testament book to go along with the entire New Testament? Why do people seem to quote so often from the Psalms, as Jesus did, more than any other book in the Bible?

By combining my curiosity about the Psalms with Lana’s desire to learn more about prayer, we took a deeper dive together into this book to see what we could discover in its depths. We learned that the book of Psalms is really a book of prayers; in fact, it’s the oldest prayer book in the world. The word “psalm” means “song” in Hebrew, the language in which the psalms were originally written. And since they are all songs to God, they are often considered prayers as much as anything else–conversations with Him that came from deep in the author’s heart.

We learned that over half of those “conversations with God” were voiced by King David, as specifically noted in the text, with many of the others alluding to his authorship based on the situations described in the psalms. I was personally looking forward to learning all I could from this man whom God described as “a man after My own heart” (see Acts 13:22).

What I wasn’t expecting was that the next year of our lives would take such an unexpected twist: soon after we began this deeper dive into the book of Psalms and the topic of prayer, Lana was diagnosed with cancer. Ten days later, we were told it was terminal. And nine months after that, Lana was gone, having passed from this life to the next.

It crushed me, and it crushed a part of my heart at the same time. If I had known this would happen when we first decided we wanted to have a deeper, richer and fuller prayer life, I’m not sure we would have done it.

But I was reminded of this thought again when a friend was telling me how he had recently made a decision to go deeper in his relationship with God. He began by waking up ten minutes earlier each day to read his Bible and pray. The following week, he woke up ten minutes earlier still. And the week after that, he woke up ten minutes earlier still, continuing this pattern until he was now waking up an hour or more earlier than usual so he could have as much time with God as possible.

He then told me about several things that had gotten increasingly harder in his life during this time: his work situation, family’s heath and his finances.

It reminded me of the difficulties Lana and I had faced soon after we made our decision to go deeper with God. I was tempted to say something to this effect when my friend said something that stopped me:

“I am so glad I decided to do this with God,” he said, “because if I hadn’t, I don’t know how I could have gotten through this time in any other way.” 

My friend was right. He was absolutely right. If Lana and I had not committed ourselves to a deeper walk with God, I don’t know how we could have gotten through what we had to go through, either. And how much better it is to be on the path of going deeper with God before life throws its worst at you, rather than waiting till it hits you full on? The time I’ve spent grounding myself in God, and in my relationship with Him, is the one thing above all else that has helped me through some of the most difficult challenges in my life.

So here it is, five years since Lana and I decided to take that deeper dive into the topic of prayer as seen through the lens of the Psalms, and now I’d like to share with you some of the lessons that I’ve learned. Along the way, I’ll also tell you about some of the miraculous answers to prayer I’ve seen and some of the amazing conversations with God I’ve had, many of which are no less miraculous or amazing to me than those I read about in the book of Psalms. The same God who walked with David through his highs and lows is the same God who has walked with me through mine–and who will walk with you through yours.

I pray God will speak to you in a special way during your time with Him, both while we’re doing this study together, and on your own for the rest of your days. I can think of nothing more incredible than to be able to talk personally with the God who created you, who knows you better than you know yourself, and who loves you like no one else on earth ever could.

I’m looking forward to our time together. I hope you are, too. I’ll share the details of how we’ll work through the book of Psalms in the P.S. below. But first, will you pray with me?

Dear Jesus, I am so thankful that we can come to you each and every day, all day, at any time during the day, and have a conversation with You. You are so loving and gracious, so kind and helpful, so wise and so knowledgable about all things, including me. Help me as I go through this day. Walk me through every situation I face. Help me to learn all that You want me to learn as we walk through this study of the book of Psalms. In Your name we pray, Amen.

P.S. Here’s my plan for going through the book of Psalms:

There are 150 psalms in the book of Psalms, each containing its own particular thought or theme. For this study, I’m going to share some thoughts with you from 30 of those 150 psalms. If you’d like to read all 150 on your own, I’d suggest reading one psalm a day for five days, starting with Psalms 1-5 this week. I’ll be highlighting one of those five psalms every week in my weekly Sunday message. By reading just five psalms a week, you’ll have two extra days per week to take a break or catch up on your reading as we go along. I also plan on taking a break for a week or two every six or seven weeks, which will give you a break and still more time to catch up if you need it. If you follow along with this plan as we go through the study, you’ll have read through the entire book of Psalms by the end of it. For those who like charts and check marks, I’ve typed up my weekly plan for this series, which you can view or print to put in your Bible. Here’s the link to the 2017 Reading Plan For Psalms.

Thanks for reading along with me! Enjoy!

Eric Elder

 

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MORNING PRAYERS – PSALM 5
Lesson 1 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 5, read by Lana Elder, with music by Bach played by Bo Elder

As I was reading through the book of Psalms, I was looking for secrets to having a more effective prayer life. I didn’t get very far into the book when I found one:

“In the morning, O Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation” (Psalm 5:3, NIV).

There’s something about morning prayers that make them hopeful. After a night of rest, it’s time to start a new day, a fresh day.

I’ve often prayed in the morning, waking up, taking out my Bible and a journal and a pen, then sitting quietly before God. But what I noticed differently in this Psalm is that the author, David, came to God with a spirit of expectancy.

David didn’t just come to God with a list of requests. He came with hope in his heart, expectant that God would answer. David knew the goodness of God. He knew that God was with Him. He knew that God was for him, just like He is for each one of us.

Our prayers have a purpose–not just because they quiet our hearts or help to organize our thoughts. Our prayers have a purpose because they involve another Person. They involve Someone who knows what you’re facing and who has the wisdom and ability to do something about them.

God really does know what you’re going through. He really does care. And that’s why you can come to God with the pieces of your life and ask God to help you put them together.

I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases David’s words in The Message translation of the Bible:

“Every morning you’ll hear me at it again. Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on Your altar and watch for fire to descend” (Psalm 5:3, The Message).

Those words are so hopeful–so helpful. When I read these words I began doing this in my mind’s eye, with my own prayers. I began laying out the pieces of my life on God’s altar, with expectancy in my heart, then watching throughout the day for God’s fire to descend–just like it had descended in times past when people offered their sacrifices to God’s on an altar.

And I began seeing answers, that very day!

After having just written in my journal about what I should do for the day, I got a text from a neighbor at 7:05 a.m. offering to bring over lunch. Then I received word that an anniversary party was cancelled, which I had been wondering if I should attend or not. Then, after taking a morning walk with my wife and praying with her about a situation our daughter was facing, our daughter texted to say how God had just worked it all out! It was as if God were underscoring the words of David for me about laying out the pieces of his life on God’s altar, then waiting in expectation.

It’s good to pray at night or at the end of a project, as that allows us time to reflect on what God has done and to give thanks for what’s been accomplished. But in order to be most effective, it’s also important to offer our prayers up to God on the front end, inviting Him to speak and to work and to be involved in whatever we’re facing.

Martin Luther famously said:

“I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”

God wants to be a co-laborer with you.  He has things He wants to accomplish in and through you. And when you talk about those things with Him up front, He can help you sort them out and let you know what He can do and what you can do. In that way, you can bring it to pass together.

Not every answer comes right away, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t have expectancy in our heart. The past few weeks, my kids and I have been praying every morning for some royalty checks to be deposited in my account for some music I’ve written and produced.  While I normally receive these checks monthly, and they help to pay for the ministry that we do, the checks were delayed because of a new arrangement between the music companies involved. Every morning we’ve been praying, and every day we’ve been hopeful for an answer. At the same time, I’ve been working with the music companies, sending emails and making phone calls and having online chats, trying to help move the process along. I’m doing everything I can, but I’m trusting God with those things I can’t do. So every day we pray for the people involved in this process–the computer programmers, the accountants, and the decision-makers–asking God to give them wisdom as they work out the details.

Then just on Friday night, for the first time in months, I started seeing those deposits coming into my account. One, two, three, four of them! As the night went on, there were more: five, six, seven, eight! The deposits kept coming as the system started working again! I praised God, together with my kids, knowing that relief was on the way!

Come to God in the morning. Sit down with Him and go over your day. Ask Him what He wants you to do. Ask Him to do what you know you can’t do. Then be on the lookout for His answers. They may not come that day, but they might! And they may not come the next day, or the next month, as I had hoped while waiting for my missing royalties.

But even if you don’t see an answer right away, don’t think that God isn’t working on your behalf. Remember what God told Daniel, through an angel that God sent to him twenty-one days after Daniel had begun praying:

“Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them” (Daniel 10:12).

God hears your prayers the moment you utter them. So why not utter them the first thing in the morning? Invite God into your day. Let Him order your steps. Lay out the pieces of your life on God’s altar, then wait in expectation.

Will you pray with me? Then after the prayer, I’d like to share a short thought with you in the P.S. about today’s reading of Psalm 5 that I shared in the link at the beginning of this message.

Jesus, thank You for loving me the way You do. Thank You for caring for me. Thank You for creating me with a purpose in mind, with good works that You want me to do. Help me, Lord, to accomplish those works today. Help me to know that You’ll be with me, working right alongside me, doing what only You can do, while I do whatever I can do. Help me to see the answers to my prayers, whether today, tomorrow, or down the road. Help me to trust You and look to You with a spirit of expectation, knowing that You are good, that You are kind, that You are loving, and that You are ultimately for me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S. When I first contemplated writing this series of messages on prayer, I asked my wife, Lana, if she would be willing to read and record each of the thirty messages I was going to use in this series. Lana had a beautiful reading voice, and she had recorded other Scripture CDs in the past, which I paired with some beautiful music in the background. I had sometimes even invited her onstage with me when I preached, so she could read the passage about which I was preaching, as her voice was so calming and beautiful.

Soon after we planned out the series, Lana was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We were shocked, but we were committed to prayer and to this series, no matter what. Lana went ahead and recorded all thirty passages, plus a few more, knowing that no matter what happened to her, God’s Word, once sent out, would never return without accomplishing that for which God sent it. It’s been almost five years now since Lana recorded these passages for this series. And while her life passed just a few months after she recorded these psalms, like a radiant flower that blooms one day then fades the next, she knew that God’s Word would never fade away. As it says in Isaiah:

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:7-8, NIV).

Here’s the link again to Lana’s reading of today’s psalm, paired with music by Bach (“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”) played by our son, Bo. I pray as you listen that God will fill your heart with a spirit of expectancy that He will answer your prayers. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Psalm 5, read by Lana Elder, with music by Bach played by Bo Elder

And here’s the link again to our reading plan for this series if you’d like to read read through the whole book of Psalms with us this year: 2017 Reading Plan For Psalms.

 

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MAGNIFYING PRAYERS – PSALM 8
Lesson 2 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 8, read by Lana Elder, with Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” played by Eric Elder

I set up a telescope one night to look at the moon and the stars. My kids couldn’t believe what they were seeing: how detailed and three-dimensional the moon looked, hanging there in space; how many stars there were–hundreds, thousands, millions–all glittering in the night sky.

They could hardly believe that each star was like our own sun–some bigger, some smaller, spread all throughout space! Each flicker of light that looked like it was no bigger than the head of a pin was, in fact, full of power, warmth, and wonder like our own sun–and there were a shining multitude of them everywhere we looked!

All this revelation, all this insight, all this awe came from simply holding a type of magnifying glass up to what we normally see on a regular basis nearly every day.

As I was reading through the psalms and looking for secrets of effective prayer, these words from Psalm 8 stood out to me:

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! … When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You care for him?” (Psalm 8:1a, 3-4, NIV).

Something happens inside us when we hold up a magnifying glass to the world around us. It opens us up to seeing the incredible work that God has created in a new way. And that fresh perspective can help us to see our own problems in a new way as well.

King David, who wrote these words from Psalm 8 nearly 3,000 years ago, was struck with the same awe and wonder as my kids on the night I set up a telescope for them. As he considered the heavens, the work of God’s fingers, the moon and the stars which God had set in place, he burst out in praise! “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!”

And that made David look at his own life in a new way, saying, “What is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You care for him?”

Yet David realized that God was mindful of him. God did care for him. In fact, the same God who took such care to create the world that David saw created him with the same care–and not only created him with care, but considered him worthy to take care of the incredible creation around him!

God, it seems, has a magnifying glass of His own. When He looks at us, He looks with such detail that He can count the number of hairs on our head (see Luke 12:7). He cares for us so much that He has created us in His own image, and given us the task of caring for the rest of His whole creation.

If you wonder if God cares for you, just take out a magnifying glass today, literally, and look at one or two things in God’s creation. You’ll get a new perspective on your own life almost immediately.

This is what happened to William Wilberforce, a member of parliament who played a major role in ending the slave trade in England in the early 1800’s. He came to faith one day, not by looking up into the sky, but by looking down into the majesty of his garden. What he saw there so fascinated him that he plopped down on the wet grass to take a closer look. What he saw was the marvel of a spider’s web.

The movie Amazing Grace captures this faith-defining moment in the life of Wilberforce like this, as his butler finds him in the garden and wonders aloud what he’s found:

“It’s God,” said Wilberforce. “I have 10,000 engagements of state today but I would prefer to spend the day out here getting a wet arse, studying dandelions and marveling at… bloody spider’s webs.”

“You found God, sir?” the butler asks.

“I think He found me,” Wilberforce responds. “You have any idea how inconvenient that is? How idiotic it will sound? I have a political career glittering ahead of me, and in my heart I want spider’s webs.” 

Wilberforce found God by looking closely at a spider’s web, or, as he puts it in the movie, “I think He found me.”

I learned something new about spider’s webs just last week. My son told me that he learned in his biology book that a spider’s web is sticky only on certain strands of the silk it weaves, but that other strands aren’t sticky at all, so that it doesn’t get stuck when scurrying around on its own web. God somehow endowed the spider with the ability to spin different types of silk depending on the need.

I must have missed that fact when I took biology, but it was a little tidbit which enlarged my awe and wonder of God once again. How God instilled in a spider the wisdom and ability to know how to spin a web at all, or which silk to spin for which purpose, made me consider not only how clever the spider is, but how clever the God who created the spider is! And if God did this for a spider, imagine what He’s done for me, whom God says He has created as the pinnacle of all He has created on the earth, made in the very image of God Himself!

That thought makes me want to burst out in praise to God as well: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!” And it makes me look at the situations I’m facing in a new way as well.

What loomed large and overwhelming to me at the beginning of my prayers suddenly seems puny in comparison to what God could do in each of those situations.  Heal a cut?  Mend a relationship? Breathe new life into something in my life that has died?

What seemed improbable just moments earlier suddenly seems no problem for the God who placed every star in the sky and knows each one by name (see Psalm 147:4)!

The God who holds creation together can certainly hold my life together as well. By magnifying God and His creation, I can see how small–how manageable–my own problems are in comparison. Whatever I face, God knows how to handle it.

If you’re facing problems today that are overwhelming you, take out a magnifying glass. Literally. Take a look at one or two things around you today–your fingerprint, a flower, or even a spider’s web. Or take out a telescope and look at the nighttime sky. Or just take a look around you at any ordinary object, but look closely to see the colors, the shapes, the details that you may have overlooked before.

Then marvel and wonder at the God who created all that makes up everything you see. Marvel and wonder that the same God who created each of these things created you with the same care–and has believed in you and trusted in you enough to put you in charge of the care of His incredible creation.

Will you pray with me?

Jesus, thank You for your magnificent creation. Thank You for including me in your plans when You created the world. Thank You for Your promise to finish the work You’ve begun in me. Help me to sort out the things I’m facing. Bring order to my world. Bring peace to my heart. Bring wisdom to my mind. I ask all this in Your name, Amen. 

Eric Elder

P.S. Here’s the link again to today’s scripture reading:
Psalm 8, read by Lana Elder, with Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” played by Eric Elder

P.P.S. And here’s the link to our reading plan if you want to read with us through all of the Psalms this year. There’s plenty of time to catch up. Just pick up and keep reading along! 2017 Reading Plan For Psalms.

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RAW PRAYERS – PSALM 13
Lesson 3 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 13, read by Lana Elder, with music by Tchaikovsky played by Makari Elder

One of the beauties of reading through the psalms is that it touches on so many emotions that you don’t have to read very far into it to find something that will match what you’re going through. And when you find that something, you can pour out your heart to God in prayer, often using the same words that you’re reading on the pages in front of you.

Within just a few psalms, we’ve already seen David’s emotions range from eager expectation to awe-filled wonder to today’s psalm, in which he pours out some raw prayers full of pain and sorrow. Psalm 13 starts with these words:

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide Your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” (Psalm 13, 5-6a, NIV).

This is a man in pain, a man in anguish, a man who’s wondering if God is even listening any more. In The Message translation of the Bible, David’s words are paraphrased like this:

“Long enough, God–You’ve ignored me long enough. I’ve looked at the back of Your head long enough” (Psalm 13:, 5-6a, MSG)

Those are some raw words. They’re guttural. And they express the real sorrow in his heart..

Maybe you’ve felt this way before. Maybe you feel this way right now. If so, let me encourage you to say some raw words of your own to God. The pain you’re feeling is real, and it’s really okay to express to God how you’re really feeling. God can take it, and there are times when you just need to say it like David did.

I was speaking to a group of people a few weeks ago who were going through various tragedies in their lives. They had lost husbands or wives, sons or daughters, friends or family members. They were dealing with divorce. They were trying to find their way out of addictions. They were experiencing pain at its worst, and I was asked to speak to them about worshipping God in the hard times. (You can listen to the message here.)

I don’t usually say certain words. They’re not part of my normal vocabulary. But during my talk, in an unscripted moment, I covered the microphone and said out loud what I knew many in the room were feeling. I said, “In some of these dark times, you just say, ‘God, this really sucks.'” Nods of agreement began throughout the room.

When the night was over, one of the leaders of the group told me that my talk had really touched the people. And the one thing they said that impacted them the most was the moment when I covered the microphone and said what I said. In that moment, they said, they knew that I knew exactly what they were going through, and that opened them up to hear the rest of what I had to say.

Sometimes we need to get really honest with God, too–to say exactly what’s on our hearts–even if it’s not “pretty,” or “religious,” or what we think we’re “supposed” to say. Sometimes we just need to just let it all out–lay it all out–before God, who sees our pain and knows what’s on our hearts already anyway.

Sometimes we read the psalms, or sing them in songs, and they begin to sound so holy, so poetic, so “nice,” that we can miss just how raw they really are. Eugene Petersen, who translated the Psalms from the original Hebrew into English for The Message translation, said this in his introduction to the Psalms:

“In English translation, the Psalms often sound smooth and polished, sonorous with Elizabethan rhythms and diction. As literature, they are beyond compare. But as prayer, as the utterances of men and women passionate for God in moments of anger and praise and lament, these translations miss something. Grammatically, they are accurate. The scholarship undergirding the translation is superb and devout. But as prayers they are not quite right. The Psalms in Hebrew are earthy and rough. They are not genteel. They are not the prayers of nice people, couched in cultured language.”

I can only imagine the types of words David and the 400 men with him used while they were hiding out in the caves of the dessert while the king and his army were hunting them down to kill them. The men with David were described as “All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented…” (1 Samuel 22:2a, NIV). I can guess that at least a few of their conversations were far from genteel.

And I can believe that at least a few of David’s conversations with God sounded just as earthy and rough. I can hear it in the English translation, but only if I really think about what he was really going through and how shocking it is that he really said some of the things he said to God. It’s not like David suddenly switched into his “religious” voice when talking to God. He just said it like it was. He told God what He was feeling, in a way that he really felt it.

But then somewhere along the way, while pouring out his pain to God, David begins to praise Him instead. He begins to sing to God that not matter what he’s going through, he still trusts in God’s unfailing love. No matter what happens, he still praises God for having been so good to him. The psalm ends with these words:

“But I trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me” (Psalm 13:5-6, NIV).

How can a man go from pouring out his pain to pouring out his praise in the matter of a few sentences? We see the same thing happen in the book of Job, where Job, who has just lost nearly everything that was dear to him in a single day, tears his robes and falls to the ground. Yet he didn’t just fall to the ground and lie there. The Bible says “he fell to the ground in worship,” saying:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21, NIV).

Somehow, Job was able to pour out his pain and pour out his praise, nearly simultaneously. Somehow, like David, Job knew he could still trust in God’s His unfailing love–no matter what.

If you’re in pain today–in anguish–or if  things look so bleak you’re not sure how you’ll be able to stand it, let me encourage you to try doing what David did, what Job did, and what I at times have had to do: pour out your pain to God, in words that are real and raw, then pour out your praise to Him as well, trusting in God’s unfailing love for yourself.

You might feel like God is being slow to show up, taking His dear sweet time to answer your prayers. You might wonder if He’s even listening at all, because you feel like the only thing you can see is the back of His head. But the truth is, God is listening. He does care. And He is answering your prayers, even if you can’t see those answers yet, or even for a long time.

Pour out your pain. Keep trusting in His unfailing love. And you might just find yourself like David, pouring out your praise as well, saying, “for He has been good to me.”

Will you pray with me?

Jesus, thank You for giving us David’s example of how to pray raw prayers, guttural prayers, prayers that truly express what’s on our hearts. Thank You for letting us see how David and Job and others have been able to not only fall down when they’re in pain, but to still worship You as they fall. Help us to talk to You like they did, and help us to trust in You the way they trusted in You. Thank You for being so worthy of our trust and praise. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. Here’s the link to the audio message I mentioned earlier:
Worshipping God in the Hard Times

And here’s the link, once again, to today’s scripture reading:
Psalm 13, read by Lana Elder, with Tchaikovsky’s “The Sick Doll,” played by Makari Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan if you want to read through all of the Psalms with us this year:
2017 Reading Plan For Psalms

 

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PLEASING PRAYERS – PSALM 19
Lesson 4 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 19, read by Lana Elder, with music by Edward MacDowell played by Josiah Elder

In my previous message, I talked about the value of saying “raw prayers,” prayers that pour out to God exactly what’s on your heart, without regard for whether it sounds pretty, or religious, or even kind. God can take it–and He already knows what’s in your heart anyway. Sometimes you just have to say it.

But in today’s message, I want to talk about the value of saying “pleasing prayers,” prayers that are also honest, but which are intentional about being pleasing to God. As a parent, I’m glad when my kids feel the freedom to come to me and express their raw emotions that they’re feeling on their hearts, without holding back for fear of what I might think. While it might sting sometimes, and their perceptions may not always be right, it helps to know what they’re honestly thinking so we can work through their thoughts together. But I’m also glad when they intentionally take time to say things which they truly believe, and which they know will please me .

Such is the case in David’s prayer today, which he ends with these words:

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

This entire Psalm is filled with “pleasing words,” words which David carefully and intentionally poured out to the God who gave him life.

He starts by talking about how glorious God is, and how His creation declares His glory to the ends of the earth:

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:1-4a)

I can see how those words would be pleasing to the God, the Creator, the One who created the earth and everything in it. Then he continues by speaking poetically about how magnificently the sun crosses the sky:

“In the heavens He has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat” (Psalm 19:4b-6).

Then he launches into a carefully worded anaphora, a grammatical technique of emphasizing an idea by repeating that same idea in different ways. The Psalms are some of the first writings in the world to use this technique which has been subsequently used by writers like Shakespeare and speechmakers like Churchill:

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.
The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous.”
(Psalm 19:7-9).

When I read this Psalm this week, I thought, “Imagine the care and thoughtfulness David must have put into crafting his words of praise to God in this way. He took a topic that was dear to him and dear to God’s heart, and then through repeating phrases, was able to express to God what he was feeling deep inside.”

I wondered what it would do for my prayer life if I could be as careful and thoughtful in my prayers to God as David was in this Psalm. It seemed like so much work, though, so I just continued writing in my journal as I normally do. But what came out of my pen next surprised me! It was a fully formed anaphora of my own!

“A desire for alcohol is not only for alcohol, but for relief from pain.
A desire for a person is not only for that person, but for relief from loneliness.
A desire for food is not only for food, but for relief from hunger….”

My poem went on for several more lines, describing the various things that people crave to bring relief from real pains. I was surprised at how easily the thoughts flowed from my mind to the paper in front of me. At the end of my thoughts, and my conversation with God, I wrote:

“Thank You for my mind and the ability You’ve given me to think. It’s remarkable. Thank You.”

And as I wrote those words, along with my thanks and praise to God for something I saw that He had created–my mind—I felt a touch of what David must have felt when he wrote his words, giving thanks and praise to God for something he saw that God had created–the heavens and His Word. Any father would be pleased to hear his children think and speak about those things in the world around him which the Father had a hand in creating. It shows honor and respect and true thankfulness.

There’s a time and place for “raw prayers,” prayers that just pour out whatever’s on our hearts to God, however they might sound. But there’s also a time and place for “pleasing prayers,” prayers that are carefully crafted to express other truths on our hearts that also bring pleasure and praise to the God who gave us life.

These aren’t words to butter up God to get what we want, but to honestly acknowledge Him for who He is, realizing how good and right and wise and perfect He is in all of His ways, and in all that He’s created–including us.

We can trust Him and trust His Word, even when He says things we don’t want to hear. We can trust Him that He really does know best.

What words could you speak today that would be pleasing to God? What insights has He given you into His ways or His Word or His creation that could bring out your praise for Him that is truly in your heart?

Why not take some time to voice those thoughts to Him, to write them out with a pen and paper, or type them out on a keyboard or keypad, or voice them out in a song or a poem?

Let the words within you flow out from your heart as a stream of praise to Him, as David’s words did when he said:

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

Will you pray with me?

Father God, thank You for letting us see that David not only poured out his pain, but also his praise, in ways that brought pleasure and glory to You. Help us to do the same, being honest and real with our problems and pains, but also with our praise and adoration. Help us to think carefully and intentionally about ways we can bring glory to You, both in our hearts and in our words that flow out of them. Let them be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

And here’s the link once again to today’s scripture reading:
Psalm 19, read by Lana Elder, with Edward MacDowell’s “To A Wild Rose,” played by Josiah Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan of the Psalms. There’s plenty of time to catch up–even if you haven’t already started reading!
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

 

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COMFORTING PRAYERS – PSALM 23
Lesson 5 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 23, read by Lana Elder, with music by Leopold Mozart played by Kaleo Elder

There are many ways to look at today’s psalm, Psalm 23, which is perhaps the most famous psalm in the book of Psalms, and perhaps the most famous passage in the whole Bible.  Today, I’m looking at what we can learn from Psalm 23 about praying more effectively.

While prayer often involves asking for God’s help or wisdom, struggling to know what to do or how things will work out in a situation, the beauty of this prayer is that it simply invites God into your life to let Him comfort you–to put your whole faith and trust in Him; to let Him take full control of your life and your situations; to allow Him to lead you beside still waters, to lie down in green grass, and to restore your soul; to trust Him that no matter what comes your way, He’ll be with you.

Listen to the words David wrote:

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
(Psalm 23:1-4, NIV).

David was a shepherd, and he knew that good shepherds watch out for their sheep. When David was a shepherd, he had attacked and killed a lion one day and a bear another, all to protect his precious sheep. He knew the care that shepherds take of their sheep. So when he faced troubles of his own, it’s not surprising that he talked to God in terms that he understood well: “The Lord is my Shepherd.”

Sometimes we just need to let God’s comfort pour over us–to slow down long enough to let Him speak His soothing words to our hearts.

One way I’ve found to do this–to slow down and let God speak deeply to my heart–is to take time and savor not just every thought in a portion of Scripture, but every word.

Take the first sentence of Psalm 23, for instance. It has only five words: “The Lord is my Shepherd.” But if you’ll focus on each and every word, you’ll see how God can use a simple sentence to speak volumes to your heart.

Think about the first word: THE. THE Lord is my Shepherd. Not “a” Lord or “some” Lord or “any” Lord, but THE Lord, THE One and Only God, THE Lord of all creation, THE Author and Perfecter of your life. THAT’S your Shepherd. THAT’S the One you’re talking to. THAT’S your Lord. “THE Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”

Think about the second word: LORD. The LORD is my Shepherd. What’s a lord? A lord is a master, a ruler, a caller of the shots. And if God is your lord, that means that you’re not! He’s got this. And He’s not just ANY lord, He’s THE Lord, THE Ruler over all, THE One Who’s got the whole world in His hands, including you.  He’s totally trustworthy, because He’s THE LORD.

Then think about the third word: IS. The Lord IS my Shepherd. It’s not “The Lord WAS my Shepherd, years ago, when I needed Him to save me, or when He showed up that one time in a special way.” It’s not “The Lord WILL BE my Shepherd, some day in the future when I get my act together or clean things up a bit.” But it’s “The Lord IS my Shepherd, right now, today in the midst of everything I’m going through.” The Lord IS your Shepherd, if He really is. And if He’s not, then there’s no reason to wait even one more minute–you can make Him your Lord today, right now! Then you’ll be you’ll be able to say, like David did, “The Lord IS my Shepherd! I shall not want!”

You’re getting how this works. Let’s do two more, and you can think through them with me.

Think about the fourth word: MY. The Lord is MY Shepherd. What does that say about you, that the Lord is your Shepherd? If He’s your Shepherd, that means He’s actually, truly concerned about you! Not just the world in general, or the people around you, but you! When Jesus told the parable about the good shepherd, what did He say about that shepherd’s heart for the one lost sheep–out of the hundred that He had? He said that the shepherd would go after that one sheep because He didn’t want even one of His sheep to be lost. God really cares about you, personally.  He is your Shepherd, just like He is mine. “The Lord is MY Shepherd, I shall not want.”

Now let’s finish with the last word: SHEPHERD. The Lord is my SHEPHERD. What’s a shepherd’s job? To look after the sheep. That’s their whole job! They take the sheep out to green pastures to get food. They lead them beside still waters to get water. They let them lie down to take a rest. They protect them from wild beasts. And they bring them back home again when the time is right, leading them through the gate when it’s time to sleep. “The Lord is my SHEPHERD, I shall not want.”

We’ve only looked at five simple words in this psalm, but you can see how those simple words can speak volumes when you slowly focus on each one, letting God speak to your heart. And perhaps you can see why David concluded this prayer to God with the words that he did, knowing that the Lord was his Shepherd:

“Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6, NIV).

If you ever need comfort from the Lord, take your time, and let Him speak to you. Don’t hurry through it. Come back to Him and His Word again and again, meditating on a few more words, and a few more until the comfort of God pours over your heart.  Let His goodness and love follow you today and tomorrow and all the days of your life.

I think God knew we could all use a bit of comfort now and then. No wonder this is the most famous passage in the Bible!

Will you pray with me?

Father God, thank You for being our Lord and our Shepherd. Thank You for David’s example of coming to You and receiving Your comfort and goodness and love. Help us today as we continue to spend time in Your presence, whatever we do next, to know that Your goodness and love will follow us throughout this day today, and all of our days ahead, if we’ll keep putting our faith and trust in You.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

And here’s the link once more to today’s scripture reading:
Psalm 23, read by Lana Elder, with music by Leopold Mozart played by Kaleo Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan of all of the psalms in the Bible if you want to read along this year:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

 

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REJOICING PRAYERS – PSALM 30
Lesson 6 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 30, read by Lana Elder, with music by Franz Joseph Haydn played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes

Today’s psalm reminds me that there are seasons for everything. Here in Illinois, summers are hot, over 100 degrees Fahrenheit many days. Winters are cold, often below 32 F for many days, with snowstorms that block us in our homes for hours.  Spring and fall are beautiful, with budding flowers and blossoming trees in the spring, and changing leaves and crisp, cool nights in the fall.

As George Carlin says (in what is probably the most accurate weather forecast of all time):

 “The weather will continue to change on and off for a long, long time.”

The seasons in our life change, too. And as much as I sometimes wish things would never change, there are definitely times when I wish they would: like living through the pain of losing my wife to cancer, for instance. Thankfully, God promises that the hard times we go through won’t last forever, that the pain we may be facing now can one day be behind us.

As King David said in Psalm 30:

Sing to the Lord, you saints of His; praise His holy name. For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning”  (Psalm 30:5).

Sometimes it’s hard to believe, but it’s true: “Rejoicing comes in the morning.”

When I first went through the book of psalms five years ago, looking for ways to pray more effectively, my wife was going through her cancer treatments. Things looked bleak, and they turned out even bleaker, as she passed away just nine months after her initial diagnosis. I couldn’t see anything in the future other than blank, gray days of nothingness. There was nothing that I could imagine ahead for me if she were to die.

As I read this psalm back then, I wrote some notes to myself:

“God says that weeping lasts for but a moment, and in light of eternity He’s right, even if it seems longer than a moment here.  Rejoicing comes in the morning. Wailing turns into dancing.”

I couldn’t see far enough ahead at the time to know what was going to happen or to know if that would ever be true for me. But it’s been five years now since I first took those notes, and I can look back now and see how true those words were. God was right. He really did bring back my joy. He eventually turned my wailing into dancing.

But in the midst of that painful season, I didn’t even want to think about rejoicing some day. I didn’t want to think about dancing some day in the future, or any time in the future. I just wanted things to go back to the way they were before tragedy hit, before our lives were turned upside down.

At that time, I was asked if I would be willing to film an interview to give people hope who were facing terminal illness. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to talk about it. I frankly didn’t know what I could say. Saying anything was like admitting that the prognosis in our case was, in fact, terminal. But I felt God wanted me to do it, so I did, and the film team called the short interview Eric’s Hope. A few months later, and two weeks before my wife died, a couple more people from the team came to our house to film another interview, this time with our whole family. They called it Lana’s Hope. (You can watch both interviews online by clicking their links).

One of the things I remember distinctly at that time was a conversation with the woman who asked me to do the interviews. She was writing a screenplay for a feature film they were going to be making in Hollywood based on a fictional story of a woman facing terminal cancer. She asked me if I wanted to know what happens at the end of the movie. I said, “No, I really don’t.”

She said, “It’s good. You might want to hear it.”

I said, again, “No, I really don’t.”

I didn’t want to hear that someday everything would get better for the husband in the movie, or that he got married again or something, and that somehow, some way, everything turned out to be okay. I didn’t know how the movie was going to end, but I didn’t want to know, because whatever it was, it couldn’t possibly be better than it was for me and our family before my wife got sick. I couldn’t imagine having to live in this world without her, and I didn’t want to have to think about it.

But you know what? That Hollywood movie came out last fall in theaters, and online just a few weeks ago, so I watched it Friday night. There were still moments that were hard, but you know what? I realized I no longer had that stabbing pain I once had. And the ending was touching, sweet, and hopeful, even if things would never be the same as they were before. (The movie is called New Life, and you can stream it from iTunes or Amazon by clicking on their links, or you can get the disc from a variety of stores.)

My life isn’t the same as it was before our lives took that turn. And it never will be. But I have seen God turn my weeping into rejoicing, my wailing into dancing. Things do change, and sometimes, very thankfully so. As Mark Twain is credited as saying:

“If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”

I sometimes wish things would never change. But that’s as unlikely as wishing the weather would never change.

When praying, keep in mind there are seasons in life, too. Too hot? Just wait. Too cold? Hang on a bit. Weeping?  Rejoicing comes in the morning.  Wailing? God can turn it into dancing.

No, things may not go back to the way they were before. But the truth is that as much as I sometimes wish things would never change, there are definitely times when I am thankful that they do.

Sing to the Lord, you saints of His; praise His holy name. For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning”  (Psalm 30:5).

Will you pray with me?

Father God, thank You for the changing seasons, and thank You for the changing seasons in our lives. I pray that You would give us hope today in the fact that some things DO change, that things WON’T always be the same as they are now, and that there are times when that is the BEST way for You to work in and through our lives the way that You want to. Help us to keep putting our trust and faith in You, for as much as things here on earth may change, You never do  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. We’ll be taking a break from the Psalms for the next two weeks, then we’ll return to them again after Easter. Now’s a great time to catch up if you’re behind in reading along through the Psalm with us! Here’s the reading plan for the year:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

And here’s the link once more to today’s scripture reading:
Psalm 30, read by Lana Elder, with Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Country Minuet” played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes

 

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SWEET PRAYERS – PSALM 34
Lesson 7 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 34, read by Lana Elder, with music by Christoph Graupner, played by Eric Elder

I love chocolate chip cookies. I especially love them when they’re fresh out of the oven, warm and chewy, with the chocolate melting into strands when you pull them apart.

But I know I wouldn’t like them as much if a few of the ingredients were missing. If there were no butter, they’d just be a clumpy mass of dough. If there were no baking soda, they’d flatten out on the tray. If there were no salt or vanilla or sugar, they’d be almost tasteless. It takes all of the ingredients, mixed together, to make that delicious, mouth-watering moment when they come out of the oven.

Life does have some very “tasty” moments, but to bring them about, it requires mixing all the right ingredients together. And to be honest, some of those ingredients don’t taste so great on their own. I wouldn’t want to eat a stick of butter. I wouldn’t want to eat a cup of  of flour. I wouldn’t want to eat a spoonful of salt or vanilla, or even a cup of sugar, as sweet as it is, without the other ingredients mixed in.

But sometimes that’s what life gives us; the ingredients come to us one by one, then we get frustrated and wonder what in the world is going on. “This isn’t what I asked for! This isn’t what I prayed about! This isn’t the way things were supposed to go!” The beautiful thing about God is this: He mixes it all together for good. Notice the word “together” in Romans 8:28:

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, NKJV).

God takes all things and works them together for good. He’s a Master Chef, and that means  God can make something good out of anything that life throws our way, even those things that we might think are initially bitter or totally useless on their own.

In Psalm 34, David experiences one of those mouth-watering moments, when everything is mixed together just right. His cookies have just come out of the oven, and he can’t help himself from bursting into song, at one point singing:

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him” (Psalm 34:8).

But what makes this moment so sweet, so mouth-wateringly delicious, are ALL the ingredients that went into it. David sings God’s praises because he realizes that only God could turn everything he had gone through into something good.

The heading of Psalm 34 tells us what had just happened:

“Psalm 34. Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelek, who drove him away, and he left.”

David had been on the run from King Saul, who was trying to kill him. Then David found himself in the presence of another king–an enemy–who might have also tried to kill him.

Thinking quickly, David pretended to be insane:

“So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.”

King Achish [his proper name, also called Abimelek as in Psalm 34, which is his title] said to his servants:

“Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?” (1 Samuel 21:13-15, NIV).

And it worked! Abimelek sent him away. Then David burst into song. Victory never tasted so sweet–which is why he probably sang, “Taste and see that the Lord is good…”

Individually, some of the ingredients that went into David’s song were pretty bitter. Facing death from one enemy only to find himself facing death from another. But God worked it all together for good, giving him a way of escape (and eventually making David the king over all the other kings in that land). David got a taste of the sweetness of God that day–and he savored every bite.

There are times in our lives when things come together just right, even for that moment, and we could burst into song as well. My encouragement to you today is this: go ahead and burst into song! Pray a prayer of thanksgiving to God for working all things together for good.

Savor every bite. Sing a song of praise. Pour out your heart to Him in thanksgiving. You may not be totally out of the fire yet, as David still had obstacles in his way until he finally became king himself. But take time out along the way to give praise to God for what He’s brought you through so far, for what He’s already worked out for good in your life.

I had one of those mouth-watering moments myself yesterday, where I had a few minutes before I picked up my kids from an activity. I decided to go to a nearby park, sit on the grass, and write in my journal.

As I sat down, I read through this Psalm again. I began to thank God for all the things that He had worked out recently in my life: I had been driving a car that kept breaking down, but I now had another car that I had found at a reasonable price; I had been working on a new book that has been a challenge for various reasons, but I had now finished 3/4ths of it so far; I had been going through a long winter here in Illinois, but I was now enjoying the spring breeze and the scent of blossoms in the trees; and I had been hungry for just a little something right before I came to the park, and I had found a vending machine a few hundred feet from where I sat which had a small packet of M&M candies in it–Dark Chocolate Mint M&M’s at that, a rare treat–and I was savoring them slowly, one or two at a time while I prayed.

That didn’t mean that everything in my life was going the way I wanted it to. It wasn’t. And it didn’t mean that I didn’t still have obstacles ahead that I would have to overcome. But in those moments, I was able to taste and see that the Lord was good–and His goodness just so happened to taste like Dark Chocolate Mint M&M’s.

What are you going through today that God might be mixing together for your good? Maybe you’re still having to eat all of the ingredients one at a time, and they don’t taste so good. But maybe there are some parts of your life that have already been mixed together for good, and which could taste sweet if you took time to stop and think about it for a few minutes. It wasn’t so sweet when my car broke down on the freeway for the final time on a cold winter morning, but it made it seemed to make it feel even better yesterday when I was able to roll down my windows once again on a warm spring day. What had been a big deal–and a big pain–just a few months ago, had turned into something extra sweet on an otherwise “ordinary” day yesterday.

If you need help thinking through the things God may have done for you lately, take a closer look at David’s psalm of thanksgiving, Psalm 34. Take a look at some of the things God had saved him from that made the victory so sweet when it did come. Maybe you’ll find a few things about which you can burst out into song to God today, too.

I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears. (v. 4)
Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. (v. 5)
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; He saved him out of all his troubles. (v. 6)
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and He delivers them. (v. 7)
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their cry… (v. 15)
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (v. 18)
A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all… (v. 19)

Thank You God, for mixing ALL things together for good.

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, God, for mixing ALL things together for good. Thank You for the victories You’ve given us, and for the ingredients we needed to make those victories so sweet. I pray that You would help us to have Your perspective on our lives, not only the sweet times, but the bitter, so that we can enjoy them even more when they all come together.   In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. Here’s a link again to today’s psalm:
Psalm 34, read by Lana Elder, with Christoph Graupner’s “Intrada,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s our reading plan for the book of Psalms this year, if you want to read through all of the psalms with us as we go through this series:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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DELIGHTED PRAYERS – PSALM 37
Lesson 8 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 37, read by Lana Elder, with music by Ludwig van Beethoven, played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes

Psalm 37 contains some of my favorite verses in the whole Bible, such as this one in verse 4:

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

What I love about this verse, and about this psalm is that it talks about the benefits of delighting yourself in the Lord, of enjoying His presence, of enjoying your time with Him. A friend of mine says that when he spends time with the Lord, he often comes away with a smile on his face, even if he didn’t enter into his time with the Lord with one. It’s like spending time with a dear friend.

Changing a frown into a smile is just one of the benefits, though. God goes further and promises that if you’ll delight yourself in Him, He will give you the desires of your heart.

I was sharing with someone yesterday about the first time I fasted and prayed for a period of several days. On the second day of my fast, I was praying for a woman I had dated in college, but we were no longer dating. She was trying to make a decision about a job, and I told her I would pray for her during my time of fasting and prayer that week.

On the second day of my fast, as I was praying for her, I suddenly had an image of her, not in the job that she was praying about, but married and living a different life than the one she was currently living. It struck me that God didn’t want her to take that job, but He did have a man in mind for her to marry. I changed my prayers and said, “Yes, Lord, give her a husband.”

Before I had even finished saying that prayer, these words came into my mind as clear as any words I had ever heard from Him before: “Why don’t you marry her?”

I was stunned! That’s not what I was praying about at all! I was just praying for direction for her life–not mine!

I closed my journal and decided I must have been getting delirious from having not eaten. It wasn’t that I didn’t love her and didn’t love dating her. I did. But at the time, I just didn’t feel it was right for us to keep dating. It turned out that during our time apart, we both fell in love with Christ and gave our lives to Him, in separate cities, in separate ways. We were now both fully committed to Him first and foremost, and we were beginning to live new lives for the first time.

Maybe God really was speaking to me. Maybe He really did want me to consider that question: “Why don’t you marry her?” We lived over 1,000 miles apart and over four hours away by plane. It didn’t seem practical. But the question wouldn’t leave me for two weeks. I began to pray more intensely, setting aside the next three months to pray about the question, not telling her anything about it.

By the end of those three months, I could hardly think of anything else but marrying this woman! God had put such a love for her in my heart like I had never felt before.

At the end of the three months, I called her to see how she was doing. She said, “I feel like God wants me to quit my job, so I’m going to quit in the next few months. But I have no idea what I’m going to do next.”

I could hardly keep my heart from leaping out of my chest. “I have an idea,” I said. I told her what I felt God had spoken to me when I was praying for her three months earlier, and how much I would love to get back together with her again–for life. Now she was the one who went into shock!

She liked her new life in her new city. She liked the new friends she was making. She liked the church in which she had gotten involved.  And she liked me, but she wasn’t sure she was ready for getting married just yet. Over the course of the next few months, it began to look more and more doubtful that we would ever get together again. But then I read a verse in the Bible, a verse that gave me hope. It was from another Psalm, but with the same theme as the one I quoted above:

“May He give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests” (Psalm 20:4-5).

As I read those words, they became “living and active” within me, as the Bible says about itself in Hebrews 4:12. Those words filled me with faith that it was okay to ask God for something I wanted, and that if He did ever see fit to answer my request, I would shout for joy! I would lift up my banner in the name of my God! Although I was afraid it might sound a little childish, I prayed, “God, I know I don’t deserve it, and I know you won’t force someone to do anything against their own free will. But if there was only one gift I could ask from you in my life time, it would be to marry Lana.”

The prospect of marrying her still looked very bleak before I prayed, and my heart was still very heavy, but in that moment, it lifted. I knew I could trust God with the outcome, whatever that may be. And I knew I would indeed rejoice fully if it ever did come to pass.

As both of us prayed and sought the Lord more and more over the next few months while we were apart, God seemed to just keep bringing our hearts together, closer and closer. A year later we were married, on April 29th, 1989–28 years ago yesterday. (Here’s our engagement picture, in a field of Texas bluebonnets.)

As I read through Psalm 37 again this week, I was reminded of how true God’s Word really is.

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

I had set aside time to fast and pray for the first time in my life, “delighting myself in the Lord,” and one of the results of that prayer was that God spoke to me: He put a desire in my heart that I wasn’t even considering. He literally “gave me the desire of my heart.” He put that desire within me, and then He fulfilled that desire on our wedding day.

I’m not saying that we will always get everything we want. I’m not saying that our lives won’t be filled with hard things and hard times. I lost my precious wife to cancer four and a half years ago. But I am so thankful that I delighted myself in the Lord that day when I was praying and fasting. I am so thankful that I asked Him to give me the desire of my heart. I am so thankful that God gave me the 23 years of marriage that we did have.

And that gives me renewed confidence to keep asking Him to give me the desires of my heart again today–whatever He desires and wants to put on my heart.

This is just one of the benefits of delighting yourself in the Lord, of spending time with Him. Others are listed all throughout this psalm:

– “He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun” (v. 6).
– “For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land” (v. 9).
– “Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous” (vv. 16-17).
– “In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty” (v. 19).
– “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed” (vv. 25-26).
– “Consider the blameless, observe the upright; there is a future for the man of peace” (v. 37).
– “The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; He is their stronghold in time of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; He delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in Him” (vv. 39-40).

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for giving me the desire of my heart, 28 years ago. Thank You for encouraging me again today to keep delighting myself in You, and to keep asking You to give me new desires of my heart, new answers to prayer for the days ahead. Help me to keep delighting in You in prayer, keep delighting in You throughout my days, keep delighting in you even when I’m having to wait patiently for Your answers. I ask all of this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. I’ve been asked to speak at a men’s conference in Trinidad at the end of June. The topic for the weekend will be “Attacks on the Souls of Men.” I’m hoping to record the sessions and post them online for others to see after the conference. Would you consider making a donation to help me offset the cost for this unplanned expense? The group that has invited me can cover my costs while I’m there, but I’ll need to cover the cost of my travel to get there (about $700). If you would like to help with part (or all!) of this special need, please use this link. Thanks!
Click here to make a donation

Also, here’s a link one more time to listen to today’s psalm:
Psalm 37, read by Lana Elder, with Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Sonatina in G,” played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes

And here’s our reading plan for the book of Psalms this year, if you want to read through all of the psalms with us as we go through this series:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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DEEP PRAYERS – PSALM 42
Lesson 9 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 42, read by Lana Elder, with music by George Frederic Handel, played by Bo Elder

Psalm 42 begins with the words of one of my favorite worship songs when I first became a Christian:

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1).

The reason this was one of my favorite worship songs was because it spoke to the deep places of my heart. As a new Christian, I just wanted more and more of God. Thirty years later, I still do.

When you read Psalm 42, you can feel David’s deep hunger, his deep thirst for God.

“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?'” (vv. 2-3).

And as you continue reading, you find out that his deep thirst is borne out of the deep pain in his soul:

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon–from Mount Mizar” (vv. 4-6).

The beauty of these verses is that it not only describes the problem David is facing, but also the solution he found to his problem: putting his hope in God; praising Him still; and remembering Him from the place where he had taken refuge.

It’s the same solution to the problems we’re facing. I heard from a friend yesterday morning whose week was filled with more than a few problems: a flooded basement, electrical issues, a tax problem, getting sick–all of which led to feelings of stress and loneliness. But like David, my friend found the solution in the simple act of turning to God, of actively hoping in Him and trusting in Him. He took away the feelings of despair. While the circumstances hadn’t entirely changed, my friend’s heart and mind changed–by trusting in Him.

Last year, I was able to visit the area in Israel where David most likely wrote this psalm, for he says in verse 5: “I will remember You from  the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon.” At one point, we stopped along the trail where we were walking, as we had come to a pool of water where it was easy to picture deer coming and quenching their thirst.

We sang, “As the deer panteth for the waters, so my soul longeth after Thee…” And we called out to God from the depths of our hearts to the depths of His. It was a sweet time of intimacy with our God who has the solutions to all of our problems.

At another point, we saw the raging headwaters of the Jordan River, one of the three tributaries which give birth to that significant river that travels the length of the country. As the water crashed in upon itself, it was easy to see how the waves turned into a metaphor for David’s song, describing both the tumult that was going on in his own heart, as well as the peace he found through prayer:

“Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and breakers have swept over me. By day the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me–a prayer to the God of my life” (Psalm 42:7-8).

I don’t know what problems you might be facing this week. I don’t know what troubles my be besetting your soul. I don’t know what waves and breakers are sweeping over you. But I do know what can help you through them. I do know Who can satisfy that deep thirst in your soul. I do know what can change your heart and your attitude so you can keep pressing forward, as it changed the heart and attitude of David 3,000 years ago, and of my friend yesterday morning. David summarized the problem–and the solution–in the final words of his psalm:

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:11).

David spoke to his soul. He asked why it was so downcast and so disturbed. Then he spoke to it again, offering the solution that God is offering you today: Put your hope in God. Sing your praise to Him, your Savior and your God. Bring your deep prayers to the One who knows best how to answer them.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for letting us pour out our hearts to you, from the depths of our hearts to the depths of Yours. Thank You for providing the solutions to our problems, the answers to our prayers. Thank You for giving us Your peace even when the breakers and waves are sweeping over us. We pray that You would bring us that peace again today, right now, throughout the day, and in the days that follow. Help us to keeping putting our hope and trust and faith in You, for You are worthy of it all. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. I’ve received $275 from several of you this week to go towards my $700 travel expense to speak at a men’s conference in Trinidad at the end of June. Thank you!  I’ll be speaking on the theme of “Attacks on the Souls of Men,” and am hoping to record the sessions and post them online for others to see after the conference. If you’d like to help offset the cost of this trip, or cover the remainder in full ($425), that would greatly help with this unplanned expense. Just use this link. Thanks!
Click here to make a donation

Here’s the link again to listen to today’s Psalm:
Psalm 42, read by Lana Elder, with George Frederic Handel’s “Rigaudon,” played by Bo Elder

And if you’d like to read through the entire book of Psalms this year with us, here’s the reading plan we’re using. It’s not too late to catch up!
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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SELAH PRAYERS – PSALM 46
Lesson 10 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 46, read by Lana Elder, with Christian Petzold’s “Minuet in G,” played by Josiah Elder

If your life is chaotic and you need a little peace, listen to God’s advice from Psalm 46:

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a).

This is perhaps one of the most calming verses in the Bible–and it occurs in the middle of a very tumultuous psalm. So much is going on here that by the time you get near the end, those calming words are a welcome respite.

Here are a few of the verses that lead up to those climactic words:

“…we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging” (vv. 1-3).

“Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; He lifts His voice, the earth melts…”(v. 7).

“Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations He has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear, He burns the shields with fire” (vv. 8-9).

And then comes the verse everyone is waiting for:

“Be still, and know that I am God” (v. 10).

It’s almost like a scene from the musical Hamilton, as a whirlwind of chaos swirls around Alexander Hamilton at a critical point in his life. The rest of the actors circle around him, picking up chairs and desks and papers, twirling the objects around him and holding them high. Chaos abounds.  Then…everything stops.

Hamilton sings, “In the eye of a hurricane, there is quiet for just a moment…” And there is quiet all around as he sings the rest of the song for the next two and a half minutes.

I love the imagery of that scene. Unfortunately for Hamilton, in that quiet moment he looks inward, decides to put his trust in his own strength–and it destroys him.

The writers of Psalm 46, however, look upward, decide to put their trust in God’s strength–and it delivers them.

How can you “be still” with God in a moment like that? How can you experience His presence when life around you is so chaotic? For me, it comes by literally stopping what I’m doing–whether it’s for just a few seconds or just a few hours–but long enough to “Be still, and know that He is God.”

Ever since taking a typing class in high school almost 40 years ago, I’ve always been a fast typist. And I’ve just gotten faster since then as I’ve worked on computers my entire adult life.

But when I spend quiet time with God, I do it “the old fashioned way.” I take out a pen and a journal. I hand write my notes to God. I try to take notes on what I feel He’s impressing on my heart from His Word and from His Spirit.

I try to write slowly–but it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes I rush, and my letters and words become illegible. But the very act of taking out a pen and a journal to record my thoughts are one way for me to slow down–to “Be still, and know that He is God.”

There’s also a mysterious word that appears in the psalms which helps me, too. It’s mysterious because Bible scholars haven’t found a well-defined translation of it in the ancient world.  But from the context in which it is often used, as best as they can tell, the word means, “stop and listen.” It’s the word, “Selah.” It’s a beautiful word, even without any meaning attached. (It’s so beautiful that one of my friends named their daughter “Selah.”)

The word “selah” occurs 74 times in the psalms (and only 3 other times in the whole Bible, in the book of Habakuk), and it occurs 3 times in today’s psalm, Psalm 46. This psalm is clearly a song, for the Hebrew text at the top of it says, “For the director of music….A song.” The word “selah” then appears 3 times, at the end of verses 3, 7 and 11.

For me, whether it means, “Stop and listen,” or as the Amplified Bible translates it, “Pause, and think of that,” whenever I see it in the Bible, it causes me to take a few extra moments to reflect on the words that precede it.

I say all of this to encourage you in your own prayer time with God to “stop and listen,” to “pause, and think of that.” Or as verse 10 says in this psalm, without having to guess at the original meaning of the words, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

I’d like to give you a chance to do this right now. I know you’re busy. I know you’re trying to get through the day and get on to whatever you have to do next. But if you’re able, take a few extra moments sometime today and read through Psalm 46.  Each time you see the word “selah,” stop and listen; pause and think of that; be still, and know that He is God.

Psalm 46
For the director of music, Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth (also likely a musical term). A song.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
He lifts His voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Come and see the works of the Lord,
the desolations He has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
He burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for letting us be still and know that You are God. Help us to pause throughout our day and throughout our week–especially when things are so chaotic we can’t think straight. Help us to know what it means to “stop and listen,”  to “pause and think of that,” to experience those “selah” moments, even with all of the mystery that this word conveys. We love You, Lord, and we thank You for letting us be still and know that You are God again today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. I’ve received all I need to travel to Trinidad and speak at the men’s conference at the end of June on the topic of “Attacks on the Souls of Men.” Thanks to all who have helped and prayed for this event.  I’m hoping to record the messages and post them online after the event.

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you want to listen to it with music (the introductory text and the word “selah” is not spoken aloud in this reading):
Psalm 46, read by Lana Elder, with Christian Petzold’s “Minuet in G,” played by Josiah Elder

And here’s the link to the reading plan we’re using to go through the whole book of Psalms this year. There’s still plenty of time to read them all!
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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CLEANSING PRAYERS – PSALM 51
Lesson 11 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 51, read by Lana Elder, with J.S. Bach’s “Prelude In C,” played by Lucas Elder

Sometimes we think our sins are too big for God to forgive.  But Jesus didn’t die for only the sins that we feel are “petty.” He died for all our sins, even those which we feel are the most grievous. A sin that leads to death might seem too hard for God to forgive, but if Jesus didn’t die for those, He wouldn’t have had to die at all.

In Psalm 51, David pours out His heart to God in prayer over what are perhaps the most grievous sins he had ever committed–his adultery with Bathsheba, who was another man’s wife, and the subsequent cover-up and murder of her husband.

The consequences David had to face from his actions were real, as the child born to him and Bathsheba died. But the cleansing that God poured out on him was real, too, as David poured out his confession to God. Listen to David’s heart as he begins his prayer:

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are proved right when You speak and justified when You judge” (Psalm 51:1-4).

David pleads for God’s mercy. He acknowledges the evil of what he’s done. And he acknowledges God’s right to judge him accordingly. Yet he pleads for God’s mercy nonetheless.

One of the reasons I find the Bible to be so trustworthy is that it doesn’t gloss over or try to cover up the sins of some of the most heroic figures contained within it. If I think of some of my own sins that are most grievous to me, and if you think of some of your own sins that are most grievous to you, can you imagine having them recorded in a book for everyone to see? Yet I am so thankful that David’s sins were recorded in the pages of the Bible, giving me hope that the same God who forgave David can also forgive me. If I thought that God could only forgive sins that I thought were petty, or if the Bible only recorded sins that seemed trivial, I might think that I could somehow pay the price for my sins myself, doing a few more good deeds, or giving more generously, or in some other way. But David’s words remind me that this is not what God wants. He wants our hearts, broken and contrite:

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; You do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (vv. 16-17).

That is exactly what David offers to God. That is exactly what I offered to God on the night that I put my trust in Him for everything in my life. And that is exactly what every one of us can offer to God, whenever we sin, to whatever extent that we sin, even for those sins which we might feel are the most grievous.

As you pray to God, come to Him and ask for forgiveness for even your biggest of sins. Then let Him forgive you, since the price for those sins has already been paid when Jesus died on the cross in your place. To not accept God’s forgiveness–and the joy that is possible from that forgiveness–would be like leaving an Easter basket filled with candy on the counter at the store, a basket for which your father has already paid and which truly belongs to you.

But sometimes we leave our baskets of forgiveness sitting on the counter. We don’t pick them up and truly enjoy the healing that forgiveness can bring because we don’t feel like we deserve it. We don’t! But our Father didn’t buy it for us because we deserved it. He bought it for us because He loves us. He doesn’t want us to die. He knew we would need it one day, so we could once against feel loved and accepted, cleansed and forgiven– otherwise we might melt in a permanent puddle of shame and regret and guilt, never to rise up again.

None of us has a perfect moral scorecard. But God wants us to know that He will gladly forgive us of any and all of our sins if we will simply acknowledge those sins before Him; pour out our broken and contrite hearts to Him; and trust in Him, that He truly has bought our forgiveness at the price of His Son on the cross.

Don’t leave the basket of forgiveness and cleansing and true joy on the counter. That’s not why He bought it for you. He bought it because He loves you. He adores you. And He doesn’t want you to die. By faith, through prayer, God will give to you what He has already purchased for you: forgiveness, cleansing, and true joy.

When David came before God, he acknowledged God’s ability to forgive. David said:

“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones You have crushed rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity” (vv. 7-9).

Then David called out to God to do a mighty work in his heart; a work that he knew he couldn’t do on his own; a work that only God, the creator of his heart, could do:

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will turn back to You” (vv. 10-13).

If you need a clean heart today, whether it’s the first time you’ve asked God to do this mighty work in your life or the hundredth time, I’d like to lead you in a prayer of cleansing–a prayer straight from the words King David prayed after committing some of the most grievous sins of his life.

Will you pray with me?

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are proved right when You speak and justified when You judge… You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; You do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise… Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones You have crushed rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will turn back to You” (Psalm 51:1-4, 16-17, 7-13). In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to listen to today’s psalm:
Psalm 51, read by Lana Elder, with J.S. Bach’s “Prelude In C,” played by Lucas Elder

And here’s the link to follow along with our reading plan to read through all of the psalms this year.
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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STRONG PRAYERS – PSALM 62
Lesson 12 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 62, read by Lana Elder, with J.C.F Bach’s “Anglaise,” played by Kaleo and Karis Elder

Sometimes you just need to lean on God’s shoulder; you just need to feel the strength of His power; you just need to rest in the fact that no matter what comes your way, everything’s going to be okay, because you know that God is holding you close.

When I read Psalm 62, it helps me to do just that: It helps me to lean on God’s shoulder; it helps me to feel the strength of His power; it helps me to rest in the fact that no matter what comes my way, everything’s going to be okay, because I know that God is holding me close.

I love the way David begins this psalm:

“My soul finds rest in God alone;
My salvation comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
He is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”
(Psalm 62:1-2, NIV).

God’s so strong that when we lean on Him, we can truly find rest. He’s our rock. He’s our salvation. He’s our fortress. We will never be shaken.

As a man, I love being independent: making a way where there is no way, leading the charge through life and helping others whom God has entrusted to my care. That’s how I’m wired. Yet, I also realize that I have limits, that I can’t do everything on my own, and that there are times when I need–and I want–someone else on whom I can rely, someone else to whom I can turn, someone else in whom I can place my trust. And that “someone else” is often the God who created me–the God who built the rocks on which I stand.

As one man said to another on a TV show called When Calls the Heart: 

“You’re a self-made man, Mr. Coulter, and you should be proud of that. But no one does it alone. We all need help at times.”

We do all need help at times. David was strong. David was a leader. David took hold of life with a passion. Yet, David realized his limits, too. And when he did, he knew where to turn to find someone stronger than himself. He turned to the God who created the rocks on which he was standing.

I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases David’s opening words in Psalm 62 in The Message version of the Bible:

“God, the one and only–
I’ll wait as long as He says.
Everything I need comes from Him,
so why not?
He’s solid rock under my feet,
breathing room for my soul.”
(Psalm 62:1-2, MSG)

I was reading these words three years ago while sitting on a beach in Cancun–a rare treat for me. I was there for just 48 hours, but they were 48 hours in which I knew I was going to need God’s help. It was my 25th wedding anniversary–and I was taking the trip alone.

My wife had passed away just over a year earlier. I didn’t know how I would handle it, being all alone–being afraid I might capsize under yet another wave of grief.

But sitting there on the beach, all alone on my anniversary, I came upon Psalm 62. I read David’s words, written at a time when he could have easily capsized, too. I took heart when I read how, at such a tenuous time in his life, David leaned on God.

“God, the one and only–
I’ll wait as long as He says.
Everything I need comes from Him,
so why not?”

In that moment, I realized that everything really did come from God–even my dear wife whom I had lost and was missing so much. I realized that if  God was able to provide a wife for me all those years ago–not to mention every other blessing I had ever enjoyed in my life–that I could trust Him to provide anything I might need now or ever in the future.

I wrote in the margin of my Bible:

“Father, thank You for reconnecting me with this truth; that You are the one and only; that everything I need comes from You–even Lana came from You. You are my source and my strength.”

Instead of the wave of grief I had feared, I was overwhelmed by a wave of peace; a wave of love; a wave of rest in the fact that I knew that I knew that I could trust God with this, too.

It’s hard to wait on God, I know. It’s hard to wait when there are bills to pay, people depending on you, or a doctor’s report that hasn’t yet come in. It’s hard to wait when a baby’s on the way, a life mate hasn’t appeared, or a job offer hasn’t been forthcoming. It’s hard to wait in a checkout lane, at a traffic light, or for dinner to get done. It’s just plain hard to wait when there’s so much living to do!

But David knew he could trust God still–“in the waiting.”

“I’ll wait as long as He says.
Everything I need comes from Him,
so why not?”

If you’re facing something today that you’re afraid might overwhelm you, I’d like to encourage you to say some “strong prayers” of your own to God, prayers where you truly lean on His strength, rest confidently in His love, and know that He is with you, for you, and is solid as a rock. Take heart from the words of David, which continue in Psalm 62, that what God was able to do for him, He is able to do for you:

“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
My hope comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
He is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
He is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in Him at all times, O people;
Pour out your hearts to Him,
For God is our refuge.”
(Psalm 62:6-8, NIV).

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for having such strong shoulders upon which we can lean. Thank You for letting us come to You today and rest in Your arms once again. Thank You for being there for us when we come to the end of ourselves. Take over, Lord, and take us beyond where we could have taken ourselves on our own. Help us to trust in You, to wait on You, and to enjoy this time of waiting while we are with You. You are our rock, our fortress, and our salvation. Help us to never be afraid, knowing that You are for us and with us, now and until the end of the age. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you’d like to listen:
Psalm 62, read by Lana Elder, with J.C.F Bach’s “Anglaise,” played by Kaleo and Karis Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

 

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EARNEST PRAYERS – PSALM 63
Lesson 13 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 63, read by Lana Elder, with Petzold/Bach’s “Minuet in G Minor,” played by Eric Elder

In the play The Importance of Being Earnest, a man named Jack pretends to be a man named Earnest–a name he has chosen for himself whenever he wants to hide his real identity. Ironically, a woman falls in love with him and, believing his name to be Earnest, tells him that she loves his name so much she can’t imagine marrying a man who wasn’t named Earnest.

And so begins a journey of discovery for the man who is pretending to be Earnest, on his way to learning the importance of being Earnest (in more ways than one).

In our prayer lives, it seems that God is wanting us to do the same: not just pretending to be earnest, but truly being earnest, truly seeking Him from our hearts.

As I look through Psalm 63, I see David doing just that: earnestly seeking God from his heart:

“God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (v. 1).

In the heading for this psalm, it says that David wrote it when he was in the desert of Judah. For many of us, we speak of being in a desert figuratively, when times are tough or circumstances are dry. For David, he was literally thirsty and his body was literally longing for refreshment, for he was truly in a dry and weary land where there was no water.

How amazing then, that David came to God with his thirst and his longing, intentionally remembering from where his help would come. David lifted up his hands to God and sang:

“I have seen You in the sanctuary and beheld Your power and Your glory. Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You. I will praise You as long as I live, and in Your name I will lift up my hands” (vv. 2-4).

Here’s a man who knows the importance of being earnest. He lifts his hands to God, knowing that God is the one who can answer the prayers on his heart.

God wants us to do the same. He wants us to lift up our hands to God, intentionally remembering that He is the one who can answer the prayers on our hearts. He is the one to whom we can express our thoughts and desires, our hopes and our dreams, and our belief that He will answer us when we call to Him.

It takes great faith to come to God in this way, to pour out our hearts to Him. Yet great faith is what pleases God the most, when we come to Him believing that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. As it says in the book of Hebrews:

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

What about you? Do you believe that God exists? Do you believe He rewards those who earnestly seek Him? It’s okay if you can’t answer those questions right away. It’s okay if it takes some time to think them through and come to your own conclusions. But in the end, know that it is your earnest prayers that God wants the most, your earnest seeking of Him, and your honest belief in Him.

I was reminded yesterday morning of God’s actual presence once again–not His far-off, distant, presence somewhere “out there,” but His manifest presence, right here with me in the very room where I’m writing this message.

I had been pondering a thought yesterday morning that I wanted to send to a friend. So I wrote it out and included a quote that was given to me by another friend 25 years ago. I sent it off.

When my friend wrote back, I had to get down on my knees and praise God. Why? Because my friend had been reading a book at that very moment which included the quote that I had just sent… a quote I had only heard in passing 25 years ago and have never seen in print before or since! To me, it was a sign of God’s manifest presence, a sign that He was right there, right then, right with me in my room. My only response was to drop down on my knees and say, “Thank You, Lord. Thank You for being right here with me, right now. Thank You for speaking to me, speaking through me, and speaking to yet another believer in the process.”

When David came to God, he came earnestly. He came full of faith. He came knowing that God was there, and that He was the Only one who could truly quench his deep thirst, truly satisfy the longings on his heart. David said:

“My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise You. On my bed I remember You; I think of You through the watches of the night. Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your wings. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me” (vv. 5-8).

David held on tight to God, and God held on tight to him. What a rich picture of a very rich relationship! I long for that kind of relationship with God, too!

I was thinking of this idea again earlier this week, about the importance of being earnest, as I watched one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies with my kids. There’s a point in the third movie where, in order to make something happen, someone must speak these words to a woman named Calypso: “Calypso, I release you from your human bonds.”

When one of the characters does so, nothing happens. Another character says, “He didn’t say it right. You have to say it right.” So this second character leans over to Calypso and whispers in her ear as if to a lover: “Calypso, I release you from your human bonds.” He used the same words, but with an entirely different tone. And when he did, all kinds of things began to happen!

I’m not saying that you have to say just the right thing in the just the right way to move the heart of God. But I am saying that God wants you to come to Him full of faith, truly believing that He’s there, that He cares, and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. Because He is there. He does care. And He does reward those who earnestly seek Him.

How do I know? Not only because the Bible tells me so, but because God Himself has confirmed it’s so–over and over and over again–as I’ve come to Him with my own earnest prayers.

I know He’d love to confirm it to you, too. Come to Him with your earnest prayers, and discover for yourself the importance of being Earnest.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for letting us come to You, anytime day or night, with those things that are on our hearts. I pray that You would hear our prayers today, answering them as You see fit, giving us a strong sense of Your presence as we do. Lord, we come to You today in faith, truly believing that You exist and that You reward those who earnestly seek You. And Lord, we  pray now that You would satisfy those longings on our heart, longings which perhaps only You truly know are deep within us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you’d like to listen:
Psalm 63, read by Lana Elder, with Petzold/Bach’s “Minuet in G Minor,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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SAVING PRAYERS – PSALM 69
Lesson 14 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 69, read by Lana Elder, with Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes

I’m writing to you this weekend from the Caribbean island of Trinidad, where earlier this week a tropical storm swept through and threatened to cancel the men’s retreat where I was scheduled to speak. But late Friday night, we finally made it to the retreat center, and even at that late hour, the other men arrived, also, eager to hear about the power of God to rescue and save us when we put our faith in Him.

It is this same power that King David called upon from God in Psalm 69, a time when the flood waters were rising in his own life. Listen to David’s cry for help at the beginning of this psalm:

“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me.
I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched.
My eyes fail, looking for my God.”
(Psalm 69:1-3)

David wasn’t just crying for help. He was screaming… screaming to the point where he had worn out his voice.

What can we learn about prayer from this psalm? For starters, it’s a reminder once again that prayer is not always polite and holy. As my friend who is on this trip with me, Jeff Williams, says, “Drowning men don’t whistle. They scream.”

If you’re going to be honest with God, you can’t pretend that everything’s okay when it’s not. If you’re fine, say so. But if you’re not fine, it’s okay to say that, too.

What also intrigues me about this prayer is that David knows Who to come to for help. He didn’t scream into thin air. He screamed to the God Whom he knew could save him. Listen to his cry as it continues:

“But I pray to You, O Lord, in the time of Your favor;
in Your great love, O God, answer me with Your sure salvation.
Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink;
deliver me from those who hate me, from the deep waters.
Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up or the pit close its mouth over me.
Answer me, O Lord, out of the goodness of Your love;
in Your great mercy turn to me.
Do not hide Your face from Your servant;
answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.”
(Psalm 69:13-17)

There’s something about David’s relationship with God that caused him to keep coming back to God over and over again–even when he felt that God was distant and not answering him. The beauty of this is summed up in the words of a new friend I’ve made here on the island, Pastor Mitchell John, who says, “When we call to someone and they don’t answer, we usually give up and try calling someone else. But David doesn’t change Who he’s calling, Who he’s crying out to, Who he is supplicating. He keeps calling out to God.”

Why would David call out to the God who he feels isn’t answering his prayers? There’s a clue in this psalm as to why. David talks to God in a way that calls on His favor, His love, His salvation ( v13). David knows what God is like. He knows from his previous interactions with God and from his previous experiences. So when David sees no tangible evidence of God in his present situation, he doesn’t give up and call someone else. He calls on the One Whom he knows is there–the only One Who is able to help.

So he keeps calling. He keeps crying out. Even when he’s losing hope, he knows that his God is a God of hope. So he continues to call, even after his voice gives out. He’s obviously wondering, crying and questioning, but in the end, he knows where to turn for help.

What about you? Who do you call for help? How do you pour out your requests when the waters have come up to your neck, when you’re sinking into the miry depths with no foothold, when you’re worn out from calling and your throat is parched? I’d like to encourage you to keep calling out to God. Keep calling the only One Who can truly save you. Don’t hang up and call someone else. Trust in God’s favor, God’s love, God’s salvation.

Maybe you feel like screaming, but you’re not sure if it’s okay to do so. But if you’re going to explore the width and the depth of prayer, take some queues from David and give it a try. If it was okay for David, I think it would be okay for you. You might even need to truly scream! You might want to close your doors first. Or take a walk. Or sit in your car. Or scream into your pillow. But however you do it, don’t cry out into thin air. Cry out to the One Who can truly help you best!

Sometimes you need to get really honest with God.

You don’t have to pretend with God. You can tell him how you really feel, remembering to thank Him for the good in your life that you do experience, but being honest about the hurts you feel as well.

I’ve been mulling over a statement lately from a book written by a woman who lost her husband, and how hard it was for her to make small talk with others while she was still dying inside. She said it’s like they were asking her:

“Aside from that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”

Thankfully, you don’t have to make small talk with God. If you’re in pain, you can say so. If you need help, you can say so. If you’re dying inside, you can say so.

Why? Because God already knows, and because He is the only One Who can truly save you. He is the One Who can rescue you. He is the One Who can reach down into your situation and pull you out of the pit.

Listen to David’s words, near the end of this psalm:

“I am in pain and distress; may Your salvation, O God, protect me” (v. 29).

Whether you’re drowning or in pain or lonely or heartbroken or suffering or in need of saving, cry out to God. If you’ve never put your faith in Christ for your salvation, do it today. If you’ve already trusted God for your eternal life, know that you can trust Him for your life here on earth, too.

Our God is a saving God. Call on Him to save you today.

Will you pray with me?

God, save us! Help us as the flood waters rise around us! Help us as we feel like we’re drowning and don’t know where else to turn. God, we trust in You, in Your favor, Your love, Your salvation. Help us to be honest with You today. Help us to keep putting our faith and trust in You. And help us to keep looking to You for our salvation.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you’d like to listen:
Psalm 69, read by Lana Elder, with Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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PRIMING PRAYERS – PSALM 100
Lesson 15 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 100, read by Lana Elder, with Haydn’s “Arietta In A,” played by Eric Elder

I live on a farm that has an old hand pump on it. We seldom use it anymore, so to get the water to come out the well, you have to “prime the pump”–meaning you pour a cupful of water down inside the pipe, which moisturizes a leather ring on a cylinder, which creates the suction needed to draw out more water. Just a cupful of water can release a fairly unlimited supply of water!

Sometimes we need to do the same thing in our prayer times with God. Sometimes we’re able to come to Him with a song that’s already in our hearts; a song we’re just bursting to sing to Him. At other times we come to Him with barely a cupful of water, and we need Him to pour out a song into our hearts.

Thankfully, He can do that, too! All we need to do is to pour out a cupful of praise, thereby “priming the pump,” which then can release a fairly unlimited supply of praise in return!

Psalm 100 is one of those psalms that always seems to help me prime my pump, bringing me quickly into an atmosphere of praise. It’s a short psalm, just 5 verses long, and it takes just 30-40 seconds to read. Yet for those who take its words to heart, it can release a strong and steady stream of praise .

Listen to the words of Psalm 100, which is subtitled in the Bible as, “A psalm. For giving thanks.”

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before Him with joyful songs.

“Know that the Lord is God.
It is He Who made us, and we are His;
we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise;
give thanks to Him and praise His name.

“For the Lord is good and His love endures forever;
His faithfulness continues through all generations.”
(Psalm 100:1-5)

Lana and I put this psalm on the cover of our “Order of Service” for the day we got married, so a copy of this psalm was handed to everyone as they entered the doors of the sanctuary. We felt it was a fitting psalm for a day when we were naturally bursting with praise–and it was! There was no need for priming the pump that day! Our hearts were already overflowing with praise!

But there have been other days that I have pulled up this psalm when my heart wasn’t naturally bursting with praise, and I’ve found there’s at least a cupful of praise in this psalm to get things going again. A few of the reasons why we can praise God, even on rainy days, are contained within the psalm itself. It begins with a shout! In my last message, I talked about shouting to God when you’re angry or upset. But in this message, I’d like to encourage you to shout out a word of praise to God, joining the rest of the earth in its praise of God as well.

Shout out the word “Hallelujah!” for instance, which simply means “Praise God!” in Hebrew (originally “Halal Yah!”). For some reason, I really love saying it in the original Hebrew! And when I do, it becomes more than just a “Woo-Hoo!” to God; it’s a “Halal Yah!” to Him, a praise to the Almighty God Who created me, Who loves me and Who gives me every breath I take. It’s a “breathy” word of praise, with no hard consonants, like p’s or k’s, to interrupt the flow. Just pure praise. Pure breath. Pure worship from my spirit to His. And in return, God has often poured out a good dose of His Spirit back into me–and a fairly unlimited supply at that!

It also helps when I say it with a smile–with gladness, as Psalm 5 says in verse 2. There’s something about saying “Halal Yah!” that just makes me smile naturally, too. It’s a “whoop-de-doo!” kind of a word to me. “Halal Yah!” It’s joyous. It’s victorious. And it brings out the true gladness that I know is down in my heart. All of this is from just the first two verses of this worshipful psalm:

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before Him with joyful songs.”

The next verse gives me a few reasons for praising God. They speak about how He is ours, and we are His:

“Know that the Lord is God.
It is He Who made us, and we are His;
we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.”

Now there’s a reason to praise God! He’s our God! He’s the One Who made us, and we are His. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture! He cares for us, because we belong to Him.

The next verse continues, telling us how we can come to Him, with thanksgiving and praise, knowing that He is ours and we are His:

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise;
give thanks to Him and praise His name.”

Come to Him with a thankful heart. Come to Him with praise. Then, as you enter His courts, give your thanks to Him; give your praise to His name.

Lastly, this psalm reminds me about some of God’s best attributes, as listed in the last verse: His goodness, His enduring love, and His faithfulness which continues through all generations.

“For the Lord is good and His love endures forever;
His faithfulness continues through all generations.”

I’ve been contemplating rainbows lately, and the powerful imagery they convey. They’re more than something for little kids to have on their stickers, or for big movements to have on their flags. They’re signs of God’s promises to the world He loves.

I saw a rainbow on my way home from Trinidad this week, and it came at a perfect time. Because of a delay at the airport, I missed one of my connecting flights…which meant I would miss my bus later in the day, which meant my plans for the rest of the night would change, too. As everything was getting backed up in my mind, I was tempted to get upset with the airlines and the agents and officials at customs.

I decided to praise God instead, trusting Him in the midst of it. I had done everything I could do, and I had to trust Him to do everything He could do. After running to one of my gates and watching the door close as the agent said, “We’re sorry, Mr. Elder, we’ve just filled the last seat on the plane,” I was tempted to be dejected again. Instead, I took a few moments to relax and praise God as I began the long walk to the customer service desk, where I was told I could standby for another flight on the other side of the airport, and I took another deep breath and began another long walk to get there.

When I finally arrived at that next gate, I sat down and saw, out the window in front of me, one of the most beautiful rainbows I’ve ever seen. It was coming down through the clouds and practically touched the plane that was sitting outside the window in front of me. I walked over to the window, and pointing it out to the others around me, we all looked at it in wonder.

About 45 minutes later, the rainbow was still there! I’ve never seen a rainbow last so long! They called my name, and told me there was one more seat on the plane… THAT plane, the one that we had been looking at for so long! It was that plane that had one more seat on it; a seat with my name on it; a seat with a rainbow of God’s promise practically touching it.

Sometimes you come to God with a song of praise that’s already on your heart. Other times you need to prime the pump with a cupful of praise to get things going, changing the atmosphere in your heart as well as the atmosphere all around you. Either way, always know that there’s an unlimited stream of praise ready and waiting for you to tap into at any moment. Just turn to God. Give Him a shout of praise. Give Him your best “Halal Yah!” Then let Him do the rest.

Will you pray with me?

Father, we praise you! We worship You with thanksgiving in our hearts! Halal Yah! Help us to bring forth the fullness of the praise that we know is deep within us–and even more, that we know is deep within You. Help us to pour out a song of praise from our spirit to Yours, then give us a good dose of Your Holy Ghost in return! Help us to praise You from the depths of our beings, knowing that You are good, that Your loves endures forever, and that Your faithfulness continues through all generations. In Jesus’ mighty name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you’d like to listen:
Psalm 100, read by Lana Elder, with Haydn’s “Arietta In A,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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“REMEMBERING” PRAYERS – PSALM 77
Lesson 16 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 77, read by Lana Elder, with Chopin’s “Prelude in E Minor,” played by Eric Elder

Some of you might feel like you’re hanging on by a thread today. But I want to remind you that God’s got a hold of you with His strong arms, and that the ground beneath your feet is much more solid than you think.

I remember as a kid watching an interview about the filming of the movie Huckleberry Finn. The actor who played Tom Sawyer said that when they filmed a scene out on a lake, the boat he was in accidentally tipped over, throwing him into the water.

Not knowing how to swim, he struggled for air and began screaming for help. He truly believed he was going to drown. But in the midst of all this, he could hear people screaming back to him from the shore. What were they saying? Why weren’t they coming to help him? Didn’t they realize he was drowning?

But when their screams finally broke through his own, he cold hear them yelling: “Stand up!” He took their advice. He reached his feet for the ground beneath his feet–ground that he thought wasn’t there, but it was! He shifted his body and finally stood straight up. He was surprised to see that he was “drowning” in only three feet of water!

The ground beneath his feet was much more solid than he thought.

I’m not saying that the problems you’re facing are trivial. I’m not saying that the waters may not be truly deep. They may be. But what I am saying is don’t let the water fool you. The ground beneath your feet is much more solid than you think. If you’ve put your faith in Jesus, then you’ve put your faith in the most solid rock available to any of us. He is THE ROCK on which we stand.

Reach out your feet for the ground beneath your feet, the ground that you think might not be there. Shift your body and try to stand upright again. Let God reach down with His strong arms and help you do it. Then know that He’s got a hold of you, and that the ground beneath your feet is much more solid than you think.

In Psalm 77, we find that the writer, a man named Asaph, was in serious distress, too. He was crying out to God for help, stretching out his hands to God, but he still couldn’t find relief:

“I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands
and my soul refused to be comforted.”
(Psalm 77:1-3)

But by the end of the psalm, Asaph had found his footing again. He was able to stand again on THE ROCK beneath his feet. How did he do it? How was he finally able to stand again?

As best I can tell, he did it by “remembering.” He prayed to God, remembering what God had done for His people in the past. Four times in this psalm, Asaph uses some form of the word “remember”:

“I remembered You, O God, and I groaned” (v. 3).
“I remembered my songs in the night” (v. 6).
“I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
Yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago” (v. 11).

And what did he remember? In his case, he thought back to the times when the Israelites thought they were going to drown, too, yet God saved them from doing so. The armies of Egypt were hot in pursuit of them, and only the waters of the Red Sea stood before them. They had nowhere else to go but to run straight into the sea.

And by God’s Spirit–by His very breath, the Bible says–the waters convulsed. They parted to the right and to the left. God’s breath dried up the floor of the sea beneath their feet and they were able to walk right through it, on solid ground.

Asaph pictures the scene in his mind as he remembers what God had done:

“The waters saw You, O God,
the waters saw You and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.

“The clouds poured down water,
the skies resounded with thunder;
Your arrows flashed back and forth.

“Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
Your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.

“Your path led through the sea,
Your way through the mighty waters,
though Your footprints were not seen.

“You led Your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”
(Psalm 77:11-20).

I hope you can listen to this psalm in the recording I’ve posted to go along with it. The music I’ve recorded is exactly the same in both the first half and the second half of this psalm, but because the words are different in those two halves, the music in those two halves have an entirely different feel. As the psalm begins, it sounds like one of the saddest, most mournful songs of all time. But by the end of the psalm, Asaph’s words of remembrance makes the music sound exultant! Triumphant! Victorious! It’s the exact same music, but it has an entirely different feel!

What’s the difference? The difference is that Asaph remembers what he knows to be true of God: God is strong, God can save, and even God’s breath can make solid ground appear beneath our feet!

What about you? What can you remember today that God has done for you in the past? Was there ever a time when you felt like you were drowning, but God reached down and saved you? When God helped you as you were in distress? When God made a way for you where there was no way?

As you look back over your life, can you remember any times when it seemed like you couldn’t go on, but God helped you through it? When you couldn’t see a solution, but God made one appear, as if out of thin air? When it looked like everything around you was conspiring to be your end, but it turned out to be just a beginning of something even better than you could have ever imagined?

If so, think about such things! Picture them in your mind! Let those images flow of God’s past victories in your life, and let them encourage you now as you face whatever struggle you might be facing now. Let God reach down with His strong arm and lift you up, shift your position, and help you stand again on solid ground.

If you’ve never put your faith in Christ before, do it today. And if you’ve already put your faith in Christ, put your faith in Him again today for what you’re facing right now, too. Let Him be the SOLID ROCK on which you stand.

Will you pray with me?

God, help us to remember You! Help us to look to You! Help us remember what You’ve done in the past so we can put our faith and trust in You again today. Jesus, we know that You’re our SOLID ROCK. We know You have saved us in the past and you can save us from this, too. Help us when we’re drowning. Help us to get our feet back on solid footing once again. Help us to know that You will work in our lives again today as You’ve worked in our lives in the past. And Lord, let this day be one that we can look back on again in the future, remembering how You saved us in this trial, this struggle, this time of distress, too. In Jesus’ mighty name–the SOLID ROCK on which we stand–Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you’d like to listen:
Psalm 77, read by Lana Elder, with Chopin’s “Prelude in E Minor,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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YEARNING PRAYERS – PSALM 84
Lesson 17 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 84, read by Lana Elder, with Beethoven’s “Sonata Pathétique,” played by Bo Elder

Have you ever felt your heart lunging out of your chest towards something or someone–that feeling that you’re being pulled forward by some kind of invisible heartstrings? That’s what it means to yearn: “to have an intense feeling of longing for something, typically something that one has lost or been separated from.”

If you’ve ever prayed for something with an intensity of heart like that, you know what a yearning prayer feels like. One of the best examples of a prayer like this is found in Psalm 84:

“How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! 
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the Living God” (vv. 1-2).

In this case, the psalmist’s heart is lunging towards God–specifically towards God’s dwelling place, that place where the psalmist knew he could meet with God.

I wrote a song one day about my own longing to be with God, to be in His dwelling place, just to know that He was right there with me. The song is called “My Sanctuary,” and the words begin like this:

All I want, All I need,
Is to be with You and to know You’re near.
All I want, All I need, 
Is to talk to You, and to know You’ll hear.
And I know There’s a place
I can go to feel You presence,
Oh, Lord, bring me there; bring me home.

At that moment, as I was writing that song, I felt like God had answered my prayer. Suddenly I was right there with Him; in His presence; in His sanctuary. At that moment, it became my sanctuary, too.

I sang:

This is my sanctuary, Oh Lord!
This is the place that I call my home!
This is my sanctuary, Oh Lord!
And I know when I’m here I’m not alone!

God answered that “yearning” prayer on my heart, that intense desire to be near Him; with Him; close to Him. I can hardly explain the immense satisfaction that I felt in the moments that followed–to be in His presence; to enjoy His peace; to experience His relaxing calm.

Sometimes our hearts long for something or someone, when what we’re really longing for is what God alone can provide: His immense satisfaction.

I think it’s critical, in those moments when we’re yearning for something or someone with a heartache that can’t be fulfilled, to turn those yearnings towards God. Why? Because sometimes our deepest longings can only be fulfilled by being in His presence–by being so close to Him that we can truly hear His heart about all of the other things for which we’re longing.

I spent a few hours of intense prayer one night at a church in Houston. I was praying to know God’s will in regards to a particular woman I was seriously considering marrying. I didn’t know what God might want, and I didn’t want to make a mistake. All I knew was that I deeply wanted to marry this woman–if that’s what God would want and what she would want as well.

I took a friend along with me to pray in a small chapel at my church. We knelt on the steps at the front of the sanctuary, pleading with God for His answer.

A few verses from the Bible came to mind about how the Holy Spirit can search out the deep things of God and reveal them to us. The verses say:

“However, as it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him’ but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11).

So we leaned into our prayers, asking God’s Holy Spirit to search out the deep things of God to see what He might have in store regarding my relationship with this woman. In my mind’s eye, I could picture the Holy Spirit taking off from the place where we were praying, then zooming towards the throne room of God. I felt as if my prayers were getting so close to the heart of God that at any minute His Spirit would return to reveal to me His answer.

But just as I thought that answer was about to come, something else happened. It felt as if the Holy Spirit had finally arrived and entered into God’s dwelling place, but as soon as He did, an invisible door shut fast behind Him. All of our prayers stopped. Our seeking ended. That yearning feeling that had been so intense on my heart was gone. Somehow I knew that our prayers had touched the very heart of God. Even though I didn’t know the answer, I knew that everything was going to be okay.

A complete stillness–a complete calm–overwhelmed us. Although this wasn’t the answer I was expecting, it brought a peace to my heart that passed all understanding; a peace that was worth more to me than any other answer I could have been given. I simply knew that God had heard my prayers, and that He had it all under control.

A few months later, God did reveal His answer to my prayers, both to me and to this woman I was hoping to marry,  with a clear and resounding “Yes!” A year later, we were walking down the aisle in the same church, in a larger sanctuary just around the corner from that chapel where I had been praying.

I tell you this story not as a formula for how to get whatever you want from God in prayer. It just doesn’t work like that, for all kinds of reasons.  I tell you this story to encourage you to bring your intense longings to God–whatever those intense desires may be that are on your heart. By bringing them to Him and spending time in His presence, you can find a peace and a satisfaction that you won’t be able to find anywhere else on earth.

The bottom line is that  you’ll be blessed! That’s exactly what the writer of Psalm 84 says will happen:

“Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; they are ever praising You.
Blessed are those whose strength is in You, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage…
They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion” (vv. 4-5, 7).

Don’t let those unfulfilled longings on your heart frustrate you forever. Instead, turn those longings into prayers to God. Bring them before Him–and keep bringing them before Him. Let your heart yearn for God Himself, for His presence, for His sanctuary.

Then, as you come into His presence, recognize that you’re in the presence of your Almighty Father, the One Who loves you more than anyone in the world.

Let His peace overwhelm you. Let His wisdom pour out upon you. Let Him solve the puzzles that you can’t solve on your own. Let His comfort, His courage, and His confidence overtake you so that you can stand up once again knowing that “God’s got this.”

As you do this, I pray you’ll come to the same conclusion as the writer of Psalm 84:

“Better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless.
O Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in You”
 (vv. 10-12).

Will you pray with me?

Almighty Father, bring us into Your presence today. Bring us into Your dwelling place. Help us turn our yearnings to You, so You can solve the puzzles we can’t solve on our own. Help us to know anything You want us to do or not do. Help us to know what’s right and what’s wrong in every situation. All we want is what You want, God, for we know and believe that whatever You want for us will be best. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you’d like to listen:
Psalm 84, read by Lana Elder, with Beethoven’s “Sonata Pathétique,” played by Bo Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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TEARFUL PRAYERS – PSALM 88
Lesson 18 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 88, read by Lana Elder, with Chopin’s “Prelude in E Minor,” played by Josiah Elder

I was asking a friend one day why the Book of Psalms seemed to be so appealing to so many people worldwide. I asked him, “Of all the Scriptures, what is it about the psalms that make them so especially beloved?”

He described to me the incredible range of emotions which are expressed in the psalms, then he pointed to Psalm 88 as being one of the deepest, most sorrow-filled passages in the whole Bible. When I read it, I was astounded.

I had read the Book of Psalms several times before as part of my regular readings through the entire Bible. But to me, after reading through just a few of them, they all began to blur together. Now, however, after hearing my friend say this, I began to see them in a different light.

My friend said, “Maybe it’s because you hadn’t yet been through some of the things the writers of the psalms were describing.” I knew that he was right. It was only after experiencing some of the deepest pains of life did Psalm 88 really speak to me personally.

While this psalm begins like many of the others, with an appeal to God for help, it doesn’t end there. It ends with some of the most poignant words in all of Scripture. Maybe you’ve prayed a prayer like this before. Here’s how the psalmist begins:

“O Lord, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before You.
May my prayer come before You; turn Your ear to my cry.
For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave” (vv. 1-3).

Whereas other psalms eventually lift us out of the darkness, this one just gets darker:

“I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like a man without strength.
I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom You remember no more, who are cut off from Your care” (vv 4-6).

Then, the psalmist begins to blame God for his troubles:

“You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily upon me; You have overwhelmed me with all Your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them” (vv-6-8).

As unthinkable as blaming God may seem, it’s also natural. It’s natural to question God’s wisdom when things are going wrong. It’s natural to question His ways when we’re not getting ours. It’s natural to doubt His love when we don’t feel loved by those around us.

But as natural as all of those feelings may be, I’m thankful we serve a supernatural God. The truth is we serve a God Who truly loves us, Who truly helps us, and Who truly works on behalf of us–even when everything around us seems to be saying just the opposite.

I chose to highlight this psalm precisely because of the depths to which it goes. It’s not a rosy, cheery picture of life. It’s not even an appeal to a deeper faith. It’s simply a tearful cry of help. Sometimes we just need to cry in prayer. And sometimes we just need to know that someone else has been where we are.

I had another friend who always loved symbols of crosses which were empty, crosses which showed that Jesus was no longer on the cross, but rather has been raised to life and is still alive today.

But one time when my friend was in a hospital, laying in bed in excruciating pain, she looked up and saw a cross on the wall in front of her which pictured Jesus hanging on it. He was wearing a crown of thorns on his head and nails were driven through His hands and His feet. My friend said that in that moment, she was comforted in her own pain for the first time. Why? Because she knew there was Someone Who had experienced the depths of the pain and sorrow that she was experiencing.

Sometimes we need to focus on the fact that Jesus has been raised from the dead and was victorious over death. But other times we may need to remember that He suffered immensely. Walking through His suffering with Him can help us as we walk through our own. As the Apostle Paul says, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11). Sometimes it’s important to know the power of Christ’s resurrection as well as sharing in His sufferings.

My friend who loves Psalm 88 finds comfort in knowing that there is someone else who understands his pain; someone else who has experienced his sorrow; someone else who doesn’t try to cheer him up or tell him everything’s going to be okay, but who simply walks through deep despair just as he has.

If you find yourself in a dark place today, remember that you’re not alone. Listen to the author of Psalm 88 as he pours out the final words of his prayer to God. Take heart that you’re not alone.

“Why, O Lord, do You reject me and hide Your face from me?
From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death; I have suffered your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me; Your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend” (vv. 14-18).

Remember the suffering of the author of Psalm 88. Remember the suffering of Jesus. And remember the suffering of those who have read and have loved Psalm 88 throughout the centuries because it helps them to know they’re not alone.

Will you pray with me?

Father, we don’t like suffering. We just don’t like it.  But Father, we know that somehow we can experience a fellowship with You and a fellowship with Your Son through suffering in a way that we could never experience through any other means. Father, help us to keep turning to you, even with our tears. Help us to know that You understand our suffering more than anyone else could ever understand. Help us to take comfort in the fact that You’ve been where we are, and that You’ll walk with us through this, too. We love You, Lord, and we come again to You today in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you’d like to listen:
Psalm 88, read by Lana Elder, with Chopin’s “Prelude in E Minor,” played by Josiah Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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PROTECTIVE PRAYERS – PSALM 91
Lesson 19 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 91, read by Lana Elder, with Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” played by Bo Elder

If you or someone you love needs God’s protection today, I hope you’ll read this message.

One of the most frequent types of prayers I pray are prayers for God’s protection–for myself and for those I love. While Jesus tells us not to worry, one of the reasons He has to do so is because there’s so much to worry about!

My dad had a card he kept on the window sill by the kitchen sink in our home growing up. It said, “Worrying must work. 90% of the things I worry about never happen.”

I’m sure that card was a reminder to him, as it often was to me, that many of the things we worry about are not worth worrying about, as they will simply never happen. As the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne said over 400 years ago: “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.”

The truth is, however, that there are still plenty of things that can and do happen to us and to those we love. What do we do about those? God gives us His answer in Psalm 91, a prayer that is filled with words of trust in God’s protection, no matter what might come against us.

Listen to the psalmist’s opening words, as he puts his complete trust in God:

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’
Surely He will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge;
His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.”
(Psalm 91:1-7)

I love the imagery of this psalm, which pictures God as a refuge and a fortress, a safe place in the midst of trouble.

The psalmist imagines himself coming to God as a fledgling bird would come to his father, taking refuge under his father’s wings. The psalmist says things like these: “He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge,” “Surely He will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence,” and “You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day.”

There is great protection when we put our trust in God. Even though “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand,” this psalm continues by saying, “but it will not come near you.”

I would never be able to count the number of times I have prayed a prayer of protection over myself and those I love. Every time I turn on the car and back out of the driveway, I pause to pray out loud that God would be with us, that He would protect us, and that we would be able to bless His name as we go about our day, and that He would bless us as we do. Every time my kids are out late, or someone I know is sick or hurting, or one of my friends is going to be home alone, I pray God’s hand of protection over them.

I don’t take these prayers for granted, and I don’t say them superstitiously, as if somehow by uttering the words versus not uttering the words they are going to act like a magic charm to protect those I love. I say these prayers because I truly believe that prayer works, that when we put our trust in God, we are putting our trust in the One who can truly protect us and dispatch His angels to guard us in all our ways.

The psalmist says as much as he continues:

“You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you make the Most High your dwelling- even the Lord, who is my refuge-
then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.
For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;

they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges My name.
He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life will I satisfy him and show him My salvation.'”

(Psalm 91:8-16)

I don’t know about you, but as I read these words, a great peace washes over me. A great comfort and calm comes into my heart. A great trust rises within me. I can breathe a little easier, knowing that God’s got this. He’s got it all under control. Even when life seems out of control, I can rest in the fact that God is bigger than anything else that can come against me. Nothing can touch me or those I love unless there is some greater purpose He has in mind.

A friend of mine describes God’s protection like the guardrails along the far edges of the road on each side to keep us (our lives) from careening off the edge. While there are plenty of obstacles, pitfalls, breakdowns, tickets for speeding, flat tires–multiple things that can and will happen on our journey–ultimately the providential protection of God will indeed keep us on the road He has designed for us.

If you’re needing God’s protection today, don’t worry. As Jesus said, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). Instead, put your trust in God. Put your trust in Him for everything in your life, as well as the lives of those you love.

Pray that God’s hand of protection would be with you as you face the terrors of the night or the arrows that fly by day. Trust that He will command His angels to guard you in all your ways. Know that when you call upon Him, He will answer you. Though a thousand may fall at your side, or ten thousand at your right hand, it will not come near you.

God is worthy of your trust. Keep praying, and keep putting your full faith and trust in Him.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for being a refuge and a fortress, a God in whom we can trust. Thank You for walking with us through the craziness of life, promising that when we put our trust in You, You will protect us when we do. Father, help us to keep trusting in You, even when we face terrors at night or arrows during the day, knowing that You are our shield and our rampart, a strong wall that protects everyone who take shelter within. Lord, help us not to worry about tomorrow. Help us not to fear what we face today. Instead, help us to pray, and to keep putting our trust in You, all along the way. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. If you haven’t listened to today’s psalm, I hope that you will, as I believe the words and the music can bring you a peace that will go beyond any message I could ever give:
Psalm 91, read by Lana Elder, with Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” played by Bo Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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SINGING PRAYERS – PSALM 96
Lesson 20 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 96, read by Lana Elder, with Johann Pachelbel’s “Fughetta,” played by Eric Elder

Sometimes you have to sing your prayers. Music gives your prayers an added dimension, an added lift.

As Hans Christian Andersen said: “Where words fail, music speaks.”

When we combine our words with music, it takes our words to a whole new level.

Psalm 96 begins with these words:

“Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth” (v. 1).

Then it goes on to list a number of things about which we can sing to Him:

“Sing to the Lord, praise His name; proclaim His salvation day after day.
Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; He is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before Him; strength and glory are in His sanctuary.
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering and come into His courts.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness; tremble before Him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns'” (vv. 2-10a).

The psalms were originally songs, as the word psalm means “song.”

Even more specifically, the word psalm comes from the Greek word “psallein,” which means “to pluck,” or to play a stringed instrument, such as a harp.

When we sing songs to God today accompanied by the piano or guitar, we’re actually doing what people have done for thousands of years: putting words to music to give them an added dimension, an added lift.

How can singing lift your prayer life? How can music make your prayer life more effective?

For starters, it can make your prayers more memorable. I have a friend who had trouble remembering anything. But she said that when she was a child, if someone put an idea to music, she remembered it for life.

There’s something about a melody that makes ideas more memorable.

Here in the U.S., when I was a kid, I learned the entire preamble to our constitution because School House Rock set those words to music. Most kids in the U.S. in my generation can sing it by memory still to this day: “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice and ensure domestic tranquility…”

We also learned about English in the same way, singing songs like “Conjunction Junction”: “Conjunction junction, what’s your function? Hooking up words and phrases and clauses.”

Advertisers, of course, use music to make their products more memorable, and again, here in the U.S., most people in my generation can fill in the blanks in a song like this:

“Oh, I wish I were an _________ __________ _________,
That is what I truly want to be.
For if I were an _________ __________ _________,
Everyone would be in love with me!”

(For those not from the U.S. or not from my generation, the answer is “Oscar Meyer Wiener,” a famous brand of hot dogs here.)

But more than just making words more memorable, by putting our words to music, we can make our words more precise, more specific. By adding rhythm and rhyme to our melodies, we can take deep spiritual truths and turn them into “sound bites” which can speak volumes into people’s hearts.

John Newton was a former slave trader who renounced his ways when he put his faith in Christ. When he wrote out his testimony, he did so by combining rhythm and rhyme and setting his words to music. By doing this, people all over the world now know his “testimony in a nutshell,” which begins like this:

“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.”

When you take time to turn your prayers into songs, you can make your prayers more precise, more specific, and more memorable, too.

Has God put a song in your heart? Is there a way you combine that song with a prayer that’s on your heart and sing it out to Him?

My encouragement to you today is to try singing out your prayers to God. Try putting a melody to the thoughts that are within you. Try adding some rhythm and rhyme to make them more precise, specific and memorable.

Try singing a new song to God, as the first line of Psalm 96 encourages us to do:

“Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth”

If you need some ideas for topics, you could use some of the topics that are listed in the rest of the psalm. Sing about His salvation, His glory, or His marvelous deeds. Sing about His creation, the heavens, or His glory and strength. Sing about His splendor, or about what it means to you that “The Lord reigns.”

Maybe you play an instrument, maybe you don’t. Maybe you have a melody that is uniquely your own, or maybe you can borrow a melody from somewhere else. But if you want to take your prayer life farther and deeper–and help others go farther and deeper in their prayer lives, too–consider “singing a new song to the Lord.”

When you do, you’ll find that the words you speak to God will be more precise, specific and memorable, maybe even being repeated and sung by others to help take their prayer lives farther and deeper as well.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for giving us music and rhythm and rhyme. Thank You for putting songs in our hearts that others have written to take our own prayer lives deeper and farther than we could on our own. Help us to bring out new songs from our hearts as well, so that we can give expression to our thoughts in a way that  goes beyond the words themselves. When our words fail or seem to fall short, help us to put them to music to give them an added dimension, a lift. Speak to us, as we consider new ways to speak to You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. One of the reasons I’ve been setting the psalms to classical music this year is to give them an added dimension, an added lift, too. If you haven’t listened to today’s psalm, you can listen to it at the link below. I’ve simply combined the reading of Psalm 96 with a classical piece by Johann Pachelbel in the background. I love the result!
Psalm 96, read by Lana Elder, with Johann Pachelbel’s “Fughetta,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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PRAISING PRAYERS – PSALM 103
Lesson 21 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 103, read by Lana Elder, with Beethoven’s “Für Elise,” played by Lucas Elder

We’re looking through the psalms to find ways to make our prayer lives more effective. One of the most powerful ways is to include “praise” in our prayers, to include some words of acknowledgement that God is worthy of our praise. Doing so has benefits for us and for God.

If you’ve ever been in a conversation with someone that has not included any kind of praise and has not included any thoughts or words of thankfulness or gratefulness on any level, you know how hard such conversations can be.

But a spoonful of sugar really does help the medicine go down, as Mary Poppins sings. More than that, your words of praise will help to recapture the best of your relationship with God, a relationship built on trust that He is worthy of your praise, and that you are the apple of His eye–no matter what your circumstances may be.

Psalm 103 gives us an example of a prayer filled with praise, a prayer that opens and closes with the words, “Praise the Lord, O my soul.” This psalm of David begins like this:

“Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits–
who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:1-5).

One thing I especially love about this psalm is that David’s words of praise seem to be truly flowing from the depths of his being. His words aren’t simply in the category of saying something just to “fake it till you make it.” His words are true words of praise, words of faith. “Faith it till you make it” might be more like it, as David truly puts his trust in God’s goodness and God’s benefits.

“Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name,” David says.  Then he begins to list God’s benefits specifically:

– who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
– who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
– who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s

David had seen God do each of these things. He had seen God forgive his sins. He had seen God heal his diseases. He had seen God redeem his life from the pit, crown him with love and compassion, and satisfy his desires with good things. David remembered what God had done in the past, and trusted God to do so again in the future.

If you’ve noticed my prayers at the end of these messages, you’ll see that I often start with the words “Father, thank You…” and then go on to list some of the things for which I am truly grateful to God. I have journals filled with these types of prayers. Not because my days are always so rosy and cheery, but because I’ve made a commitment to myself to try to begin my prayers with words of thanks to God, no matter what else might be going on in my life.

Sometimes I have to push aside the things that are pressing down on me so I can find some words of praise. I know they’re within me. I just have to bring them out. So I’ll start by writing the words, “Father, thank You…” and think of something that has happened in the past 24 or 48 hours for which I am truly thankful.

This morning, my prayer would go something like this: “Father, thank you for my daughter coming home for this weekend. Thank You for my family gathering together and eating and laughing and crying and watching movies. Thank You for the sunny days when we could be outside and for the rainy ones when everything was watered well.”

If this was all you were to read in my journal, you would think I had a most blissful weekend. All in all, it was quite pleasant. But if you read further, you’d find that there were multiple concerns that were on my heart: accidents and injuries, bills that need to be paid, and relationships that need to be ironed out.

If your life is like mine, it’s usually a mixed bag of things which are praiseworthy and things which are difficult. By praising God on the front end, however, and praising God again at the end of the conversation, I find it brings balance to my prayers, encouragement to my soul, and blessings to both God’s heart and my own.

If you need some ideas to prime the pump of praise in your prayer life, read through Psalm 103. See if you can say any of the words of that psalm with true praise from the depths of your being. Then let your faith begin to flow, putting your trust in God once again for everything in your life.

I’m going to do this myself today as well. If you’d like, you can pray though the rest of Psalm 103 with me here, as I look through the words of David and turn each line that resonates with my heart into a prayer of praise to God. As I often start in my journal, I’ll just start with the words, “Father, thank You…” then I’ll begin to list those things from this psalm which I can truly say with words of praise from my heart.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You…
– that You are compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love.
– that You will not always accuse, nor will You hold Your anger against us forever.
– that You don’t treat us as our sins deserve.
– that as far as the east is from the west, so far have You removed our sins from us.
– that You have compassion on us, as a father has compassion on his children.
– that even though our days are like grass and quickly forgotten, Your love is everlasting.

Thank You for being so worthy of our praise. We praise You Lord, from the depths of our souls. We praise Your holy name. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. If you haven’t listened to today’s psalm yet, you can listen to it here:
Psalm 103, read by Lana Elder, with Beethoven’s “Für Elise,” played by Lucas Elder

You can also follow along with our weekly reading plan for the book of psalms here:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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AVENGING PRAYERS – PSALM 109
Lesson 22 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 109, read by Lana Elder, with Handel’s “Sarabande,” played by Eric Elder

Is it ever okay to ask God to bring vengeance on someone who is acting maliciously toward us? If David’s prayers are any indication of what we can or can’t ask of God, then the answer is “Yes.”

It’s not an easy answer, though, as God’s viewpoint on our troubles is not always the same as our own. We can sometimes be wrong in our assessment of others, and we can sometimes minimize our own guilt while magnifying the guilt of others.

Still, there are times when the malice of others is so evil, so awful, and so clear, that it is altogether fitting and proper to ask God to intervene on our behalf, to spare us from further harm, and to bring about justice on those who are acting contemptuously.

Listen to David’s prayer in Psalm 109, and see what you think. David begins by explaining the problem as he sees it:

“O God, whom I praise, do not remain silent,
for wicked and deceitful men have opened their mouths against me;
they have spoken against me with lying tongues.
With words of hatred they surround me; they attack me without cause.
In return for my friendship they accuse me, but I am a man of prayer.
They repay me evil for good, and hatred for my friendship” (vv. 1-4).

So far, so good. The harder part for me to read is what David says next, when he begins to ask God about very specific ways he wants God to intervene! Listen to David’s boldness:

“Appoint an evil man to oppose him; let an accuser stand at his right hand.
When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him.
May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.
May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.
May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes.
May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children.
May his descendants be cut off, their names blotted out from the next generation.
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord; may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.
May their sins always remain before the Lord, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.
For he never thought of doing a kindness, but hounded to death the poor and the needy and the brokenhearted.
He loved to pronounce a curse- may it come on him; he found no pleasure in blessing- may it be far from him.
He wore cursing as his garment; it entered into his body like water, into his bones like oil.
May it be like a cloak wrapped about him, like a belt tied forever around him.
May this be the Lord’s payment to my accusers, to those who speak evil of me” (vv. 5-20).

Those are some pretty strong words! But there have been occasions in my life where I have felt like saying some strong words like that to God in prayer, too. And if we’re going to be honest in our conversations with God, part of being honest means saying things that might not sound as holy or as pious as we think we should sound.

And the truth is, calling on God to bring a stop to wickedness IS holy and pious. Jesus didn’t hold back from calling a spade a spade when He said things like, “You snakes! You brood of vipers!” or “You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:33 and 23:15).

There are times when we might need to call a spade a spade, too, asking God to intervene to bring an end to wickedness.

I like calling prayers like these “avenging prayers” because asking God to bring about vengeance is different than taking revenge on someone ourselves. God is the ultimate judge, and calling on Him for justice is calling on Him to do one of the things He is fully qualified and fully capable of doing.

Noah Webster, in his 1828 dictionary, said this about the difference between the words avenge and revenge: “To avenge and revenge, radically, are synonymous. But modern usage inclines to make a valuable distinction in the use of these words, restricting avenge to the taking of just punishment, and revenge to the infliction of pain or evil, maliciously, in an illegal manner.”

Calling on God to take action to do what is right and just is very different than asking someone to do something underhanded and equally evil or malicious in return for what they’ve done to us.

Like David, when I’ve come to the place where I’ve had to call on God to bring an end to something evil or wicked that is happening around me, I’ve taken careful stock of the situation and the people involved first, then I’ve asked God to bring about justice on His terms. And, at times, I have seen Him act surprisingly swiftly in response.

In one situation, a man was repeatedly abusing those around him, including me. The man refused to respond to civil requests to cease and desist, and refused to back down from his destructive tirades. When I finally got the courage to call on God to bring and end to his swath of destruction, two days later the man resigned from his position and left town. It was as if God had answered my prayer in a way that David wanted God to answer his, when David said: “May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.”

God is gracious. God is loving. God is kind. Yet, He does not leave the guilty unpunished. As the Bible says:

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exodus 34:6b-7a).

I sat in a courtroom one day when a friend of mine was on trial. I was there to testify to his good traits, but I was also there to admit that he had made some really bad decisions that were very harmful to others. While I wanted the judge to be lenient in some ways, I also didn’t want the judge to ignore the harmful things that had been done.

In reading the verdict, the judge commended my friend for the good he had done, and the judge offered the court’s help to turn my friend’s life around. Yet the judge also said, wisely: “The people in this room who have come to support you think you’re a good person, and frankly, I believe you’re a good person, too, but one who’s made some bad decisions. And this court and our society and those you have wronged are not going to tolerate the commission of crimes. There may have been issues in your life that contributed to those decisions, but there are always going to be issues. This verdict is to get your attention, to require you to make restitution for the wrongs you’ve done, and to help you to turn your life around.”

I felt the judge’s sentence was extremely fair, well-reasoned, and compassionate, yet he did not leave the guilty unpunished.

I am thankful that God, being the best judge, is willing to step in and intervene in situations where it would be dangerous and potentially even more destructive for us to try to take matters into our own hands. That’s when avenging prayers come in, calling on God to bring about justice. As the Apostle Paul says in the book of Romans:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:17-19).

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You that You are a good Father and a good judge. Lord, for those who have wronged us, help us to call on You for help in bringing about justice and bringing about a change in their hearts. Help us to step out of harm’s way and let You step in to take up our cause. We pray that You would bring an end to the wickedness of those who are acting maliciously against us, and that You would cause Your light to drive out any remaining darkness. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. Here’s a link to listen to today’s psalm again:
Psalm 109, read by Lana Elder, with Handel’s “Sarabande,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s a link to our weekly reading plan for the book of psalms this year:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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FEARLESS PRAYERS – PSALM 112
Lesson 23 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 112, read by Lana Elder, with Daquin’s “Nöel,” played by Eric Elder

Last weekend, I shared my testimony with the largest live audience I’ve ever shared with before. Needless to say, I was more than a little bit nervous.

But I took comfort from two things that I’d like to share with you today: 1) that a healthy fear of God is more important than an unhealthy fear of people and 2) that fearless prayers lead to incredible blessings.

You’ll find these same principles at work in Psalm 112, which begins with these words:

“Praise the Lord. Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
who finds great delight in His commands.
His children will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed” (vv. 1-2).

A healthy fear of God leads to all kinds of blessings. Why? Because following God and His ways inevitably leads to an abundant life, both here on earth and in heaven forever. God doesn’t give us His wisdom–His commands–to hold us back from the fullest life possible, but to bless us with the fullest life possible.

Listen to the blessings that Psalm 112 says will follow when we fear God and take delight in His commands:

“Wealth and riches are in his house,
and his righteousness endures forever.

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.

Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely,
who conducts his affairs with justice.

Surely he will never be shaken;
a righteous man will be remembered forever.

He will have no fear of bad news;
his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.

His heart is secure, he will have no fear;
in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.

He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor,
his righteousness endures forever;
his horn will be lifted high in honor” (vv 3-9).

And listen to what happens when we don’t take delight in God’s ways:

“The wicked man will see and be vexed,
he will gnash his teeth and waste away;
the longings of the wicked will come to nothing” (v. 10).

Does this mean that only good will come to those who follow God, and only bad will come to those who don’t? Of course not. A simple look at anyone who has committed their life wholeheartedly to their Father in heaven shows that sometimes bad things happen to the best of people, Jesus being the prime example. But listen to what Jesus has to say about a healthy fear of God:

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:28-31).

When I told a friend a few months ago that I was asked to share my testimony in front of this live audience, my friend said, “Aren’t you afraid?” I said that I was, but that I loved talking about Jesus more than anything else, for it is in Him that I’ve found my hope–and I couldn’t wait to share that hope with others.

I said, “If telling people about the most closely held secret of my life means that I can also tell people about how Jesus has worked in my life, then it’s worth it. It’s not that I’m not afraid. I am. I’m just compelled to push through my fears to share what Jesus has done for me.”

The truth is, there’s coming a day when everyone’s secrets will be made known. Everyone’s sins will be revealed. My hope is that by revealing now how Jesus has helped me to deal with my secrets, others will put their faith in Him so they can deal with theirs.

As Jesus said in the same passage I referenced above:

“So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs…. Whoever acknowledges Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven. But whoever disowns Me before men, I will disown him before My Father in heaven” (vv. 26-27, 32-33).

Just listening to Jesus’ words reminds me that the words I speak, and the words I don’t speak, are massively important and eternally significant. We can be afraid of those who can kill our bodies, or we can be afraid of the One who can send both body and soul to hell.

As the days got closer for me to share my testimony last week, my fear factor kept increasing. But I took great comfort in the two truths I shared with you at the beginning of this message: 1) that a healthy fear of God is more important than an unhealthy fear of people and 2) that fearless prayers lead to incredible blessings, both for us and for all those around us.

Are there some fearless prayers you need to say today?

And if so, will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for reminding us that we can come to You with our fears, and that as we pray boldly, You can reduce our fears immeasurably, knowing that You will bless those who walk in Your ways. Father, help us to be bold in our witness to You. Help us to share with others the hope we have found in You. Help us to pray fearless prayers, knowing that You will answer those prayers with incredible blessings, both for us and for all those around us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. You can watch my brief, 8-minute testimony at this link:
Interview at Eastview

You can to listen to today’s psalm at this link:
Psalm 112, read by Lana Elder, with Daquin’s “Nöel,” played by Eric Elder

And you can see our weekly reading plan for the book of psalms at this link:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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DAILY PRAYERS – PSALM 118
Lesson 24 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 118, read by Lana Elder, with Jacques Offenbach’s “Barcorelle,” played by Eric Elder

 

There are many famous quotes in the Bible, especially in the book of Psalms. But there’s one quote in Psalm 118 that helps keep me going each day. The quote is this:

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (v. 24).

I’ve talked several times in these messages about special prayers you can say to God when you’re facing special problems. But today I’d like to focus on the value of daily prayers, thanking God for each day you’re alive.

Thanking God for each day is not only important when things are going good, but also when things are going bad.

I’ve mentioned in one of my earlier messages that a few months before my wife died, a film team asked if I would be willing to record a short message to offer hope to others facing terminal illness. I didn’t think I could do it, as I was still trying to find my own reason for hope in the face of the most significant loss in my life.

But I agreed to do the interview, and at one point during the filming, God filled me with incredible hope for myself, too. I was finally able to say that even if the unthinkable happened to my wife, I knew God would still have a reason for me to live.

“My role,” I said, “is to find that reason, fulfill that reason, and walk in that reason.”

While it was a struggle for me to finally get to that point, trying to imagine living life without her, I truly believed those words were true. And here I am, five years later, having found that reason again, fulfilling that reason, and walking in that reason. God has continued to call me to purposeful living, day after day after day.

I know there’s a reason that I’m here. And I know there’s a reason you’re here, too. This really is “the day the Lord has made.” I am so thankful for today, and I am continuing to rejoice and be glad in it.

What about you? What kind of day are you facing today? What is God speaking to you, calling you to do and think and be? I know it can be hard some days to believe that God has a calling on your life, but God really does want you to know your purpose for living even more than you want to know it. And He really does wants you to live THIS day to the fullest, too.

Let me encourage you to say a fresh prayer to God again today, committing THIS day to live for Him and saying, “This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Then say it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and the next, so that you can keep making the most of every day the Lord your God gives to you.

If you need some help in your heart to do this, here are a few cues from the writer of Psalm 118 for how he was able to do it, even when life had him on the ropes at times.

He remembered God’s love endures forever:

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.
Let Israel say: ‘His love endures forever.’
Let the house of Aaron say: ‘His love endures forever.’
Let those who fear the Lord say: ‘His love endures forever'” (vv. 1-4). 

He remembered how God had set him free:

“In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and He answered by setting me free.
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (vv. 5-6).

He remembered that God is God and not anyone else:

“The Lord is with me; He is my helper. I will look in triumph on my enemies.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.
All the nations surrounded me, but in the name of the Lord I cut them off.
They surrounded me on every side, but in the name of the Lord I cut them off.
They swarmed around me like bees, but they died out as quickly as burning thorns; in the name of the Lord I cut them off.
I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me” (vv. 7-13).

He remembered who gave Him his voice to sing and to praise:

“The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.
Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: ‘The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!
The Lord’s right hand is lifted high; the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!’
I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
The Lord has chastened me severely, but He has not given me over to death” (vv. 14-18).

He remembered the Lord with thankfulness:

“Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter.
I will give You thanks, for You answered me; You have become my salvation” (vv. 19-21).

He remembered the Lord for doing miracles:

The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone;
the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (vv. 22-23).

And he remembered that THIS is the day the Lord has made:

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (v. 24).

If you need to get your mojo back, do what this psalmist did, and do it daily.  Remember that God’s love endures forever. Remember that He has set you free. Remember that He is God and not anyone else. Remember that He is the one who gave you your voice to sing and to praise.

Remember the Lord with thankfulness. Remember the Lord for His miracles. And remember that THIS is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for giving us another day of life. Thank You for giving us a purpose and meaning for today and hope for our future. Thank You for Your eagerness to reveal that purpose and meaning and hope to each one of us. Help us to walk out the calling that You have in mind for us, living each day to the fullest and fulfilling every single thing You want us to fulfill. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S. Last week I shared with you a brief, 8-minute interview I filmed at our church how God set me free from living a life I knew He didn’t want me to live. If you’re looking for freedom, or know someone who is, I’d like to also recommend a film that you can watch this week for one day only in theaters across the country called The Heart of Man. The film was produced by my friend and Hollywood producer, Brian Bird, who also produced Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ. I was able to watch The Heart of Man and found it to be full of hope for anyone who is struggling with anything in their life to which they might be addicted. The film also contains godly wisdom from real-life people whom God has set free and have gone on to impact the world for good. The Heart of Man is showing in theaters for one day only, this Thursday, September 14th. Click here to learn more.

Eric Elder

You can watch my own brief, 8-minute testimony that I shared with you last week at this link:
Eric’s interview at Eastview

You can to listen to today’s psalm at this link:
Psalm 118, read by Lana Elder, with Jacques Offenbach’s “Barcorelle,” played by Eric Elder

And you can see our weekly reading plan for the book of psalms at this link:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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PEACEFUL PRAYERS – PSALM 122
Lesson 25 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 122, read by Lana Elder, with Mozart’s “Minuet in F,” played by Eric Elder

 

We have six more weeks in the book of Psalms, where we’re learning about prayer and how to make our prayer lives more effective. As we pull into this final stretch, I think today is a good time to talk about recognizing God’s answers to our prayers when they come.

Sometimes we’re praying for something intensely, expecting the answer to come in a certain way. But when the answer does come, we sometimes don’t recognize it, because it comes in a way we hadn’t expected.

Today’s lesson highlights this point, as the topic is praying for peace. “Peace” is a funny thing. I’ve seen people who are in the midst of chaos, with pandemonium all around them, yet who are experiencing true peace. But I’ve also seen people who are in the midst of extreme calm, with utter stillness all around them, yet who are experiencing true turmoil.

When we pray for peace, we sometimes miss God’s answer when it comes, because God makes His peace available to us in ways we don’t always grasp.

First, I want to look at the importance of praying for peace in our circumstances and how God can truly answers those prayers. But second, I want to look at the importance of praying for peace regardless of our circumstances and how God can truly answer those prayers, too.

In Psalm 122, David encourages people to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. For a man who had lived most of his life fighting battles against his enemies, I’m sure his prayers for peace were heartfelt. In Psalm 122, David says:

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.’
For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’” (vv. 6-8).

What I love about David’s prayer for peace is that God answered those prayers! After years of fighting war after war after war, David did experience peace in Jerusalem. As it says in the book of 2 Samuel:

“…the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him” (2 Samuel 7:1b).

And the peace that David prayed for and experienced lasted into the next generation, as his son, Solomon, later said this after he had become king:

“But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side, and there is no adversary or disaster” (1 Kings 5:4).

Praise God that He answers our prayers for peace in very physical and tangible ways!

I’d also like to point out, however, that God answers our prayers for peace in ways we sometimes miss because we’re expecting that peace to come in another form.

One night, my family was invited by a Jewish man to take part in his family’s Seder Meal, the traditional Passover Meal which is celebrated by Jewish people every year.

At the end of the meal, the man who had invited us asked if we had any questions. Since so many of the traditions he talked about referred to the long-awaited Messiah, I asked him what he thought of Jesus–and why he didn’t think Jesus is that long-awaited Messiah.

He answered, “When the Messiah comes, he will bring peace. As I look around, I don’t see peace. So clearly Jesus can’t be the Messiah we’re looking for.”

While I appreciated his answer, I couldn’t help thinking that he had missed the fact that was so apparent to me: Jesus did bring peace! But the kind of peace this man was expecting wasn’t the kind of peace that Jesus brought.

Here’s how Jesus described the peace He has offered to each one of us:

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid … I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 14:27, 16:33).

The peace Jesus describes is the same peace I experienced when I first put my faith in Him–and which I’ve continued to experience still, over 30 years later. Had I not experienced this miraculous peace of Christ in my heart, I might still be waiting for another Messiah, too–one who could give me peace as the world gives peace.

But because I’ve experienced the peace of Christ, I am fully convinced He is the Messiah–because no one else could give me the kind of peace that He has given to me.

The Apostle Paul describes this inner peace–and how to get it–like this:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

This peace has carried me through sickness and job loss, anger and fear. It has carried me through tornadoes and hurricanes, mishaps and miscarriages. It has carried me through grief and despair, sorrow and sadness.

Praise God that He answers our prayers for peace in ways that transcend understanding, no matter what is going on in the world around us!

If you need peace today, let me encourage you to pray for it. Put your faith in Christ for everything in your life, from the forgiveness of your sins to the circumstances that you’re facing today. Pray for God to bring peace into your heart. Pray for God to bring peace to the world around you. And like David, pray for the peace of Jerusalem, even today.

Know that God can and will answer each and every prayer you pray. Then don’t miss His answer when it does come–as it may come in a way you never expected!

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for offering us Your peace–a peace that passes understanding–and for making it available to each and every one of us. Help us to know and to experience Your peace in our hearts. Help us to know and experience Your peace in the world around us. And help us to see Your peace come upon the city of Jerusalem, the city where Jesus the Messiah lived and died and rose again from the dead. We pray all of this in His precious name, Amen.

Eric Elder

You can to listen to today’s psalm again at this link:
Psalm 122, read by Lana Elder, with Mozart’s “Minuet in F,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s our 2017 reading plan for the book of psalms at this link:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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BUILDING PRAYERS – PSALM 127
Lesson 26 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 127, read by Lana Elder, with Kirnberger’s “Lullaby,” played by Kaleo Elder

I am a futurist. By that, I mean I spend a good deal of time thinking about the future. In fact, I was employed by a Fortune 10 corporation for about 10 years with the specific purpose of advising them on the future of various computer technologies and how those technologies would impact their corporation.

I worked with researchers at Apple and IBM, MIT and NASA. I read papers, went to conferences, and subscribed to dozens of magazines and mailing lists devoted to the study of the future. In many ways, I am now living in the world that I foresaw 30 years ago when I first began doing this type of research.

The funny thing about the future, though, is that we can only predict so much. We’re not omniscient–or all knowing–like God is. Without Him, our predictions about the future are only best guesses based on what we can see and the trends that are taking shape.

If we’re going to have any success at predicting the future–and making the most of those predictions–we need God to guide us. There’s nothing sadder, as others have wisely said, than to spend your whole life climbing the ladder of success only to find, once you reach the top, that your ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.

King Solomon put it like this in Psalm 127:

“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat…” (Psalm 127:1-2a).

How can we know if our ladder is up against the right wall? How can we know if the Lord is in our building projects, or if we’re just spinning our wheels needlessly? As Stephen Covey says:

“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to get to the wrong place faster! I don’t want to get to the top of the ladder only to realize my ladder is up against the wrong wall! I want every step I take to to move me forward, not backward.

But how can I know if the things I’m doing are really what God wants me to do?

That’s where “building” prayers come in: prayers to God to show me if the house I’m working on is the house God wants me to work on–or if it’s time to move on.

By staying in touch with the Father on a regular and consistent basis, He can guide our steps. He can show us if we’re headed down the right path, and He can turn us around if we find we’re on the wrong one.

I’ve worked on many houses over my lifetime–literal houses–cleaning, restoring, remodeling, and renovating them. None of them for pay. All of them for love. I’ve worked on houses for my own family, for my extended family, and for others to enjoy. Each and every time, I have to ask God, “Is this a project You really want me to take on?” Because it’s way too much work to spin my wheels endlessly.

And I can say that each time, I have reached various points where I have seriously questioned if God has really asked me to work on it or not. Each and every time, I’ve reached points where I’ve had to return to God, again and again, asking for His guidance, His wisdom, and His strength, because it takes way too much time, effort, and resources if He’s not in it.

I’d like to say I’ve never wasted one minute, never wasted one penny, never wasted one ounce of strength. I’d like to say those things, but I can’t. I’ve had to regroup and backtrack too many times for that to be the case.

But what I can say is this: there’s not one minute I’ve spent in prayer that hasn’t been well-invested. There’s not one penny for God’s thoughts that hasn’t made a return. There’s not one ounce of effort on my knees before God that hasn’t given me strength. Even though I’ve made mistakes along the way, and even though I’ve begun to climb some ladders God hasn’t wanted me to climb, He has always helped to redirect me to the ladders He has wanted me to climb.

Sometimes God redirects me in ways that are subtle and gentle, other times in ways that are abrupt and painful. But always, He redirects me in ways that keep moving me forward in the right direction for my life–His direction.

There are times when I’ve been tempted to think that I’ve just wasted months of energy–mental, physical, and spiritual energy. But at those times, God has reminded me of this:

Time spent seeking My will with all your heart, soul, mind and strength is never wasted. It’s always invested, and it will pay huge rewards for years to come.

What about you? What kinds of “houses” are you building where you need God’s guidance?  Are you building your job? Your career? Your house? Your health? Are you building a relationship? A friendship? A mentorship? A family? Are there some ladders you’re climbing where it would be helpful to know if they’re up against the right walls or not?

If so, let me encourage you to pray. Pray some “building” prayers of your own. Ask God for His wisdom, His strength, and His resources to either keep you moving forward or to show if it’s time to start climbing another ladder.

One of the most beautiful promises God offers in this psalm comes at the end of the verses I quoted from King Solomon earlier. Here are those verses again, this time with God’s promise included at the end of them:

“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for He grants sleep to those He loves.” (Psalm 127:1-2a).

There have been a few times, even this week, where I have been working on a project and God has simply said, “Now’s the time to rest.” I’ve protested: “But I’ve got so much more to do!” And God has said, “Sometimes the best next thing you can do is to get some rest.” And I’ve literally gone back to to bed for a while.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be building anything in vain. I don’t want to rise early and stay up late in vain. I want every moment to count. And sometimes that means getting some rest so you’ll be fresh to start “building” again.

God has reminded me this past week again that if I’ll keep bringing my projects to Him in prayer– keep putting my efforts into His hands–He’ll make the most of every one. He’ll guide me when I need guidance. He’ll redirect my steps when I need redirecting. And He will give me rest when I need rest, too.

Keep coming to God in prayer. Keep asking Him for His direction. And keep trusting that the time you spend seeking God’s will is never wasted. It’s always invested, and it will pay huge rewards for years to come.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for promising to never leave us alone. Thank You for walking with us every step of the way. We pray that You would guide us today as we move forward with the projects that are on on our hearts. Show us which ones are on Your heart, too, and help us to work on them, with You, together. Father, we look forward to the future, knowing that we won’t be alone there, either, knowing that You will be with us always, even to the end of the age. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

You can to listen to today’s psalm again at this link:
Psalm 127, read by Lana Elder, with Kirnberger’s “Lullaby,” played by Kaleo Elder

And you can see our 2017 reading plan for the book of psalms at this link:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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QUIETING PRAYERS – PSALM 131
Lesson 27 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 131, read by Lana Elder, with Frederic Chopin’s “Prelude in A,” played by Josiah Elder

Susanna Wesley had 19 children, two of whom went on to found the Methodist church. How did she ever find a place to spend quiet time with God?

Easy! She sat in a chair and threw her apron over her head! Her children knew not to disturb her during her prayer time.

My  late wife Lana and I had six children. Lana was so encouraged when she heard that story about Susanna Wesley that she decided she could make a quiet place in our home to meet with God, too (she didn’t have an apron). She cleaned out a 2-1/2 by 2-1/2 square foot space in our closet and laid some blankets on the floor to make it soft. She added a box of tissues, some worship music, and a bag of Nestle Caramel Treasures.

Whenever she needed some quiet time, she would go into her prayer closet, close the door, and put on her music. She read her Bible, sang, prayed, laughed, cried and even danced in that little space. She found it quieted her soul and gave her strength to go on with the day. If you’d like to hear a message she recorded on why she created this special space and how it helped her in her walk with God, click here: My Prayer Closet.

Today’s Psalm contains a similar theme. In Psalm 131, David says that he “stilled and quieted his soul.” Listen to his words in this, one of the shortest psalms in the Bible:

“My heart is not proud, O Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore” (Psalm 131:1-3).

Although this is a short psalm, it packs a lot of wisdom into those three short verses about quieting your soul.

David begins by saying, “my heart is not proud” and “my eyes are not haughty.” It’s amazing how pride can cause our souls to become stressed or distressed.

When we worry about how we’ll look in the eyes of others, we can quickly lose our peace. Our minds become preoccupied with how to avoid being thought of as “less than” or “a failure” or “dumb.” We spend money we don’t have or eat more than we should to either impress others or make ourselves feel better. We often end up on losing more than we gain, digging ourselves into even deeper difficulties.

If we can take a cue from David instead, we would pray that our hearts would not be proud and our eyes would not be haughty. With nothing to lose in terms of trying to impress others, we can save ourselves from a great deal of grief. By embracing who we are, and not who we aren’t, we can find peace and contentment that can’t be found in any other way.

David goes on to say, “I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.” This may sound anathema in today’s culture, but sometimes we need to lay down our striving for “great things,” in order to gain something even greater: our peace. With so much to do and so much to accomplish, we sometimes miss the joy of doing those things along the way. I’m all for trying to make the most out of life, but that also means stopping from time to time and asking God what His agenda is for you each day.

I’ve sometimes been stunned, when praying through my list of things to do, that God will highlight only one of them for me to work on for that particular day. “Just do this one thing,” God seems to be saying, “and you can have the rest of the day to do whatever else you want.” I’ve found it incredibly freeing, both mentally and physically, to let God set my agenda for the day.

Then David says those words I love the most in this psalm: “But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.”

One of the most peaceful things I’ve ever witnessed in my life is my wife nursing our children. She would often nurse them for months and even years until they no longer felt the need to nurse. They knew they could come to their mother any time for the peace and comfort of being held in her arms, even after they had been weaned. That calm and peaceful feeling they had while resting in their mother’s arms was available to them long after the nursing was over. There is, perhaps, no picture in my mind that is more peaceful.

How can we have that kind of peace with God? By saying “quieting” prayers. By coming to Him not only when we have a great need, but even at those times when we simply want to rest in His arms, to let Him hold onto us, to let Him pull us in close. Even as I write this, I’m encouraging myself to just let God hold onto me, calming me with His peace. I encourage you to do the same, just like David encouraged his fellow Israelites to do with God in the last words of this psalm:

“O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.”

Where are you putting your hope today? If you’re putting it in yourself, and your ambitions, and your appearance or accomplishments or achievements, you’ll find your peace will be elusive and can falter as quickly as any of those things can falter. But if you’ll put your hope in the Lord, both now and forevermore, you can find peace, no matter what else happens to you in life.

Like Susanna Wesley, who found peace in the midst of a houseful of children by simply putting her apron over her head, you and I can find peace by coming to God anytime in prayer.

Ask God to quiet your soul today. Ask Him to give you His peace. Keep putting your hope in Him, both now and forevermore.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for David’s example of quieting his soul in the midst of his building, ruling, and defending a great nation. Lord, thank You for the examples of people like Susanna Wesley and my wife Lana who were able to carve out spaces and places to find peace in the midst of their own busy lives. Help each one of us to do the same, starting today. Quiet our souls and help us find peace even now as we pray. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Again, here’s the link to Lana’s message: My Prayer Closet.

And here’s a link to her reading of today’s psalm, set to music this week by our son, Josiah:
Psalm 131, read by Lana Elder, with Frederic Chopin’s “Prelude in A,” played by Josiah Elder

You can follow along with our reading plan for the remainder of the book of psalms here:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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SEARCHING PRAYERS – PSALM 139
Lesson 28 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 139, read by Lana Elder, with Felix Mendelssohn’s “Venetian Boat Song,” played by Eric Elder

One of the most intimate moments I’ve ever had in a conversation with God came while reading today’s psalm, Psalm 139.

I was on a ski trip with my family in northern Illinois. I had just quit my secular job to go into full-time ministry. I had quit my job by faith, knowing that God had called me to do it, but not because I had anything particular lined up ahead of time to do next. I only knew that God wanted me to seek Him, day by day, and to stay as close as possible to Him.

I had no special resources tucked away for this time without a job: only about 10 days’ worth of salary in the bank and three kids at home. Because we had planned this trip months in advance with another family and had already paid for it, we decided to go, but I was extra nervous about the idea of skiing as I had also given up my health insurance when I quit. If any of us had any kind of accident on the slopes, we would be completely on our own.

When it came time to ski, I sent my family with the other family to the hills, but I stayed back at the rental house to pray. Although I felt as close to God as I had ever been, my level of anxiety about the future was equally high.

As I began to pray, God showed me my next step–and it petrified me. He wanted me to take the 10 days’ worth of salary in the bank and invest it in a trip to Israel, a country I had never visited before, and a country I had never even considered visiting before. I felt stretched in my faith beyond anything I had ever known before, and I thought I would break. “This couldn’t really be what God is saying, is it?” I thought.

I laid down on the couch to take a break from praying when God spoke to my heart in a way that I can only describe as very personal. He knew my anxiety level was at an all-time high, and He wanted to reassure me that yes, He was with me in this, too. He said, very quietly, “Open your Bible, Eric, and read the third line down.”

“Open it to where?” I thought.

“Just open it,” He said, “and look at the third line down.”

“Are you serious, God? This is not a game! This is not Bible roulette!”

But not knowing what else to do, I did what I felt He was saying. I opened my Bible, still lying down on the couch, and looked at the passage on the page. It began with these words:

“O Lord, You have searched me and You know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways” (vv. 1-3).

There I was, lying down on the couch, and as I read the third line down, two words leapt out as if they were emblazoned with fire, supported by all the other words I had just read:

“You discern my going out and my LYING DOWN; You are familiar with all my ways.”

It wasn’t just “like” God was speaking to me, God WAS speaking to me! If you’ve ever had a moment where you know that you know that God is real, that He is right there with you, and that He has something very, very important to say to you, this was that kind of moment.

Immediately I was flooded with peace. With comfort. With full trust, knowing that as long as I stayed close to God, He would lead me and walk me through anything He ever called me to do.

As I read the rest of the psalm, I saw that God knew me better than I could ever know myself, that there was nothing hidden from Him, and that there was no where I could go where He would not come with me.

Over the following days and weeks, I followed God’s leading day by day, going to Israel, seeing Him work and walk with me in ways He had never done before, beginning the ministry that I am still doing today, 22 years later (but that’s a story that would take a whole ‘nother book).

I share this story with you before sharing the rest of Psalm 139 with you because I want you to know that God is with you just as much as He is with me. He knows your heart as well as He knows mine.

Although God highlighted two words for me that day in a way that made them leap off the page and into my heart, the experience served to underscore the truth of EVERY WORD in Psalm 139. EVERY WORD in the psalm is true, and EVERY WORD in it applies equally to you as it does to me.

With that in mind, if you’re anxious about today, if you’re unsure about what God is calling you to do next, or if you’re needing some encouragement that God is really with you–and will be with you no matter where you are or what you do–read the following words from Psalm 139 and let them sink deep into your Spirit. Invite God to search your heart and know your anxious thoughts, trusting that He can and will lead you in THE WAY everlasting, if you will stay as close to Him as possible:

“O Lord, You have searched me and You know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely, O Lord.
You hem me in behind and before; You have laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You.
For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with You.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
(Psalm 139:1-18, 23-24)

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for knowing us so deeply, so intimately. Thank You that there is nowhere on earth, or off the earth, that we could go and NOT have you with us. Lord, You know us better than anyone else knows us, better even than we know ourselves. Search us, O God, and know our hearts; test us and know our anxious thoughts. Reveal to us anything that we would ever need to know, anything that is not right and needs to be corrected, and lead us in the way everlasting, the way that leads to an abundant life in every possible area of our lives.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s a link to listen to today’s psalm again:
Psalm 139, read by Lana Elder, with Felix Mendelssohn’s “Venetian Boat Song,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s a link to our reading plan for the book of psalms for 2017:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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GUIDING PRAYERS – PSALM 143
Lesson 29 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 143, read by Lana Elder, with C.P.E. Bach’s “Solfeggietto,” played by Eric Elder

 

If you need guidance in your life, wondering which way you should go, let me encourage you to pray a prayer that David prayed in Psalm 143:

“Show me the way I should go,
for to You I lift up my soul….
Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God;
may Your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” (vv. 8b, 10).

I was asking God to do this very thing a few weeks ago–to show me the way I should go. (I seem to be asking God to do this nearly every day! But for today, I want to tell you three ways God answered my prayers recently.)

I was on a trip out west with my youngest daughter, as we were visiting my middle daughter for a few days in California. There were several things we planned to do on our trip, but there were a few things we really dreamed we could do, but they seemed nearly impossible.

As a backdrop for Story #1, my youngest daughter is a huge fan of America’s Got Talent. She’s been watching the show all season, and when she found out we were going to be in LA the same week as the filming of the final episode of the show, she wondered if she might be able to see the show and some of the performers she had been watching all year.

I checked into the idea, but the show was already sold out. A few days into our trip, however, I was praying that God would do something special for her–and He did! Even though we couldn’t see the finals of the show, we decided to go down to Hollywood the day afterward to see some of the sites.

We parked at a friend’s house near downtown Hollywood and started walking towards the area we wanted to see. About five minutes into our 15-minute walk to our destination, my daughter noticed a group of guys walking towards us on the other side of the street. She looked at me and said, “Dad, that’s Light Balance, the dance group I’ve been watching on TV!”

I looked closer at the guys across the street and saw they were all wearing matching T-shirts with the letters “LB” printed on them. And just as we were looking at them, they looked as us! There was no one else on either side of the street, and no cars coming in either direction. It was just us and them!

I told my daughter to wave and say “Hi” since they were already looking at us, and she did. They all stopped and waved back!

We crossed the street, said hello in person, and were able to tell them how much we liked watching their performances all season. We asked if we could take a picture with them, which they were very happy to do.

One of them took a picture of us all, we said goodbye, and went on our way–my heart rejoicing! Not because I got to meet Light Balance, although I was very happy to meet them! My heart was rejoicing because God had answered my prayer to do something special for my daughter. It was one of the highlights of our trip, and it felt like God had specifically guided us to that very spot at that very point in time.


“Light Balance” with my daughter and me

You might think this story is just coincidental, and I might, too, except for story #2.

My middle daughter, who lives in LA, really loves a famous singer–and she has for most of her life. One of her hopes has been to meet him someday, to truly hang out and be genuine friends. During our time with her, I had been praying that God would fulfill some of the special desires that she’s had on her heart as an encouragement to her that she’s at the right place at the right time.

She often attends a mid-week service at a church in LA, so we all went together for the night. The church was meeting that week in a hotel ballroom in Beverly Hills because their normal venue was being used for something else that night.

Just before the service started, the singer she has loved for so long happened to walk in and sit down less than 30 feet away from us!

I told her that God had truly put her in the right place at the right time, and that He would continue to do so as she just kept staying close to Him. Who knew, I said, what God might bring about?

Two weeks later, she happened to be at an event for the church, and not only was this singer there, too, but they had a chance to chat and even share a laugh together about something they both thought was hysterical! It was a brief encounter, but I pray it is the first of many such encounters that will continue to fulfill one of the desires that has been on her heart for many, many years.


Mid-week service in Beverly Hills

You might consider this a chance encounter, too, but the evidence in my mind that it was God who was leading our steps just kept mounting with story #3.

I had a desire on my heart that week in LA, too. I wanted to visit a particular place I had never visited before: a beach about an hour away from where my daughter lived. I didn’t think we’d have time to go there, so I didn’t mention it. I just asked God that if there were a way, that He would make it possible.

As the days passed, although it looked like it probably wouldn’t work out, I just kept it close to my heart, trusting Him with whatever happened.

And then it happened! I had planned to see another friend who lived there in LA, but his schedule was tight as he was headed out for the weekend. He said he could get together, but it would really help him out if I could give him a ride afterward to a boat dock where he was going to be taking an express boat to his next destination. I looked on the map to see where he needed me to take him, and it was 2 miles from the very place I had been wanting to visit!

I hadn’t mentioned it to him. I hadn’t mentioned it to my daughters. I had only mentioned it to God in my prayers–a prayer that I thought would be nearly impossible to answer!

I was able to visit my friend, drop him off at the dock, then spend a few precious hours in the spot I only dreamed might possible just a few days earlier! God had done it again, guiding and directing to the right place at the right time.


A walk on the beach

Individually, any of these stories might seem random or coincidental. But collectively, the fact that each story represented each of the different desires on our hearts and different answers to our prayers–any one of which seemed fairly unlikely and nearly impossible–these stories encouraged me that God really does answer our prayers for guidance and direction. He really can put us in the right place at the right time to fulfill His will as well as our desires.

Maybe you feel dismayed today that God hasn’t been answering YOUR prayers. If so, you’re not alone. Even David felt this way as he began his prayers for guidance to God:

“O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy;
in Your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief…
my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed…
I spread out my hands to You; my soul thirsts for You like a parched land.
Answer me quickly, O Lord; my spirit fails.
Do not hide Your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in You.”  (vv. 1, 4, 6-8a).

If that’s you, today, let me encourage you to keep praying the rest of David’s prayer, too, for God’s guidance and direction in your life.

“Show me the way I should go,
for to You I lift up my soul….
Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God;
may Your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” (vv. 8, 10).

Just as God answered David’s prayers 3,000 years ago, and just as God answered my prayers a few weeks ago, I trust and pray that God will answer your prayers– even today.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for letting us come to You with our prayers for guidance and direction. Thank You for making a way where the way seems nearly impossible. Thank You for Your love, Your faithfulness, and Your encouragement to us to keep praying for guidance and direction, knowing that You care about even the smallest details of our lives. Show us the way to go. Lead us by Your Holy Spirit. Guide us into Your perfect will for our lives, today and forevermore. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s a link to listen to today’s psalm again:
Psalm 143, read by Lana Elder, with C.P.E. Bach’s “Solfeggietto,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s a link to our reading plan for the book of psalms for 2017:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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LIFELONG PRAYERS – PSALM 150
Lesson 30 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 150, read by Lana Elder, with George Frideric Handel’s “Gigue,” played by Bo Elder

 

Maybe you’ve heard about the wife who told her husband: “You haven’t told me you love me in years!”

To which her husband replied: “I told you I love you on our wedding day, and if that ever changes I’ll let you know.”

Some people approach their relationship with God the same way. Maybe they got saved one day many years ago, but they rarely, if ever, tell Him how much they love Him anymore.

Or maybe they’ve put off talking to God their entire lives, hoping to do all the living they can before coming to Him. They think “I’m going to live the way I want to live until the last moment, then I’ll put my faith in God.”

What they don’t realize is that waiting like this would be like waiting to fall in love until the last moment of life. They’d be missing out on so much “life” that they could have had all along the way.

Today, I’d like to encourage you to make a lifelong commitment to prayer with God. As long as you still have breath, I hope you’ll still be praising the Lord.

As the final line of Psalm 150–the final psalm in the book of Psalms–says:

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6).

As long as you have breath, praise the Lord.

Praise Him wherever you go. Praise Him for His acts of power. Praise Him for His surpassing greatness. Praise Him with instruments and dancing. Just say it, even now: Praise the Lord!

Psalm 150 is an exuberant psalm, filled with praises to God from the first word to the last. Listen to the joy that is expressed in this psalm:

“Praise the Lord. Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty heavens.
Praise Him for His acts of power; praise Him for His surpassing greatness.
Praise Him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise Him with the harp and lyre,
praise Him with tambourine and dancing, praise Him with the strings and flute,
praise Him with the clash of cymbals, praise Him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.”
Psalm 150:1-6

The beauty of making a commitment to lifelong prayer with God is that your conversations with Him will never end–not even when you take your last breath here on earth.

My wife was interviewed just a few weeks before her imminent passing into heaven.  The interviewer said: “Lana, you don’t seem fearful of death. Why is that?”

Lana said: “I’m actually not fearful of death, and the only thing I can attribute it to is just having followed God for so long, waking up and talking to Him each day, throughout the day, He’s helped me through many things. And since I am talking to Him all day long, death will be just like meeting Him and talking to Him all day long.”

Lana’s conversations with God didn’t end when she took her last breath, and they have continued ever since–now face-to-face.

What a glorious thing to have a lifelong conversation with God here on earth that lasts into eternity.

I have some friends who, after years of knowing them, I still feel like I’m only now really getting to know them. I suppose that’s one of the reasons God promises to give us an eternity with Him–it will simply take that long for us to even come close to knowing Him the way we’d want to know Him.

After 30 years of following God with all of my heart, soul and mind, I’m still discovering new things about Him nearly every day–when reading His Word, when interacting with His people, when experiencing a nuance about His grace or forgiveness or love that I’ve never experienced before. I’m continually surprised that there’s still more to learn, more to know, and more to understand about Him and this amazing life He’s given us.

As I close today, I’d like to remind you of one of my favorite “breathy” prayers, a prayer that is little more than a breath. I mentioned this back in Lesson 15, half-way through this study, and it’s worth mentioning again as we talk about about “letting everything that has breath praise the Lord.”

The prayer is simply this: “Halal Yah!”

It’s Hebrew for “Praise Yahweh,” or “Praise the Lord.” I call it a “breathy” prayer because there are no hard consonants in the phrase. When you say it out loud, you’re just using your breath to say a prayer of praise to God. “Halal Yah!” There are no harsh sounds, no guttural stops in the middle, just a gentle glide of your tongue to the front of your mouth to form the “l” sounds. Otherwise, it’s just pure breath.

If you have breath today, try praying this simple breathy prayer yourself: “Halal Yah!”

Say it a few times, over and over. Breathe in deeply of the breath of this life that God has given you today, then breathe out a prayer of praise by saying: “Halal Yah!”

Let this prayer serve as an exclamation point at the end of everything else you have to say to Him, just as the last words of Psalm 150 serve as an exclamation point at the end of everything else that’s been said in the book of Psalms:

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!”

Take a deep breath, then say it with me: “Halal Yah! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!”

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for letting us come to You today and every day with praises on our lips to You. Thank You for the breath You’ve given us today, whether it’s easy to take those breaths or, for some, perhaps a little harder today than on other days. Yet every day we have breath is a day more that we can still praise You. So we praise You today while we still have breath. Hallal Yah! And Lord, when that finally day comes when we take our last breath here on earth, let us step into eternity with You with praises on our lips, then let us breathe deeply of that Your heavenly air so we can keep on praising You forever. Thank You, Lord, for inviting us into a conversation that will never end.  Halal Yah! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S. Next week, we’ll conclude this series with a special look at one of the most intimate (and longest) passages in the whole Bible, Psalm 119. Don’t miss it!

Eric Elder

Here’s a link to listen to today’s psalm again:
Psalm 150, read by Lana Elder, with George Frideric Handel’s “Gigue,” played by Bo Elder

And here’s a link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

~~~~~~~~~~~~

AMBER SHELLAC
The Conclusion of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to an excerpt from Psalm 119 here:
Psalm 119, read by Lana Elder, with Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero,” played by Marilyn Elder

 

Some stories take time to tell. I don’t mean they’re long stories. I mean they’re stories that take a long time before you can tell them.

Today, I’d like to tell you one of those stories, a story that started five years ago this month. And through this story, I hope to encourage you to keep talking to God in prayer every day for the rest of your life. God loves hearing what’s on your heart, and He has so much He wants to say to you.

I’ve come to really love my conversations with God, every day, all through the day. I feel like I could have written a verse from Psalm 119 that says:

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103).

Even His words that are as simple as “Amber Shellac.”

One of the reasons I’ve waited to tell this story is because it involves my wife Lana’s casket. It’s not something I could talk about right then, as there were too many other important things going on. But I’d like to share it now as a way to show how intimacy with God can be achieved over time.

As the final days of Lana’s life here on earth drew near, it became clear to us that apart from a miraculous intervention from God, Lana was about to experience what we all will experience at some point in our lives: the passing from this life to the next.

Lana and I talked about many things in those final days, some of which involved her wishes for her funeral, including her casket. She didn’t want anything elaborate–just a plain wooden box.

She remembered seeing Pope John Paul II’s funeral on TV about 10 years earlier, and could still see the image in her mind of the plain wooden casket in which he was carried through the streets.

His casket was made of simple wood in a simple trapezoidal shape. I found a picture of it online, and showed it to Lana. She said: “That’s it. That’s exactly what I want.”



John Paul II’s Simple Casket

I called around locally to see if I could find one, but couldn’t. So I searched online and found a man in Salt Lake City who makes simple wooden caskets just like Lana was wanting.

When I called to talk about our situation, he said he could get one to us within a few days if need be, adding that some people order them years ahead of time just to make it easier for others so there’s one less decision to have to make later. Lana thought that was a good idea–and if she didn’t have to use it for years, all the better!

With a the resolve of strength that only God can give for a moment like that, I placed the order, not sure if we’d be using it within days or, if a miracle occurred, getting to save it away for years. Sadly, it was only a matter of days. Lana passed away on November 15, 2012, and her casket arrived the following day.

I had called a friend when I placed the order, a friend who refinishes furniture, to ask if, when the casket arrived, he could refinish it in a style that matched the Pope’s casket, as it was shipping to us unfinished. He agreed. So when the casket arrived, he picked it up for me at the shipping office and took it back to his shop.


Unfinished Casket

Now under a deadline to get it ready in time for the funeral, he went to the hardware store to buy some stain and finish. But as he looked at all of the options, none of them seemed quite right. He considered all kinds of stains, from cherry to walnut to pine, but each one seemed off for some reason. He walked out of the hardware store with one of the options in his hand, but feeling it just wasn’t right. Then it came to him, as if out of the blue: “Amber Shellac!”

He had used it for projects in the past, and he KNEW that this was the answer to the riddle he couldn’t solve. Amber Shellac would be the perfect finish! He walked back into the store, found the shellac, and left again knowing he had found the solution. He coated the casket in several thin layers of Amber Shellac, and got it done just in time for the funeral.


Lana’s Casket with Amber Shellac

Lana’s casket was perfect. It was just what she wanted, and just what seemed perfectly fitting for her life: simple, pure, and beautiful. It became the centerpiece of those difficult hours as my family and I stood next to it during the visitation and funeral. From time to time during the visitation, as people came through to talk and pray and offer their condolences, I would reach out and stroke the soft, smooth wood of Lana’s casket. It was the closest I could get to caressing Lana herself.

I loved Lana’s casket, and I know Lana would have loved it, too. We both loved creating and refinishing furniture ourselves. I built many things from scratch, including the crib each of our children slept in as infants and a triple bunk bed each of them used at various times as they got older. Lana refinished everything from desks and tables and rocking chairs to all the wooden trim in nearly every room of our house.

How does this relate to my intimacy with God? That brings us to this week, five years later.

I’ve been trying to finish a special project this week, creating a prayer room in our house that Lana had envisioned in our then-unfinished attic. We began work on it before she got sick, with family and friends helping us to begin the conversion.

But when Lana got sick, we had to stop our work. When she passed away, I simply lost heart and could hardly bear to think about finishing the room she had envisioned. I would start, then have to stop again. Then start, and stop again.

This year, however, one of the goals I set for myself was to finish the work on the attic that we started all those years ago. With the help again of some encouraging family and friends, I was able to make progress and see it take final shape before my eyes. I recently added what for me was the the pièce de résistance, the pinnacle of this special space: a beautiful fireplace, something which I’ve always wanted in this home, but have never had.

As I lit the fireplace for the first time a few weeks ago, I praised God that this project which has been so many years in the making was nearly finished. All I needed now was to build a wooden frame and add some kind of mantel over the fireplace to finish it off.

Loving woodworking and all the options that are available to me, I would normally relish thinking through what kind of wood I would choose and the finish that would go on it. But like a woman in labor, I was also at the point where I just wanted to deliver this baby! I said, “God, help me!” as much out of desperation as out of a true prayer that I believed He would answer.

But as soon as I said, “God, help me!” He did!

I remembered Lana’s casket, and the answer God had given my friend five years earlier as he was walking out of the hardware store feeling overwhelmed with options, none of which seemed quite right. And just as God’s answer came to my friend as if out of the blue, it came to me the same way, and I knew it was right! The perfect answer to my prayer for help: “Amber Shellac!”

Just last night, after days of designing and cutting and sanding the woodwork around the fireplace, I brushed on my first coat of several to come of Amber Shellac–a beautiful and perfect finishing touch to this project that began so many years ago. I am SO looking forward to sitting in this new space soon, with the fireplace going on a cold winter day and seeking God still more with all of my heart.


My Fireplace after the first coat of Amber Shellac

It’s taken many years–and many prayers–to get to this place. But none of those years and none of those prayers have been wasted, even when I felt like giving up so many times along the way. Those years and those prayers have, in fact, been building an intimacy between God and me that I’m not sure could have been built any other way.

As John Ortberg says in his latest book on the topic of intimacy (and which is subtitled Getting Real about Getting Close):

“Intimacy isn’t built on grand, elaborate gestures. It doesn’t have to be something deep or dramatic–an elaborate, romantic getaway, a dramatic self-disclosure, or sentimental words. Rather, it’s made up of a thousand, everyday moments of interaction” (p. 7).

The same applies to our intimacy with God. Sometimes we think we need to get away for a “special” time of prayer with God to really get close to Him. And there is value and purpose in doing that from time to time. But our intimacy with God isn’t built on just those “special” times. It’s built, rather, on a thousand, everyday moments of interaction with Him–like calling out for help with a woodworking decision and hearing the words: “Amber Shellac!”

I want to encourage you today, and every day, to take time in prayer with God. Take time to talk to Him. Take time to interact with Him, building your intimacy with Him, moment by precious  moment.

I want to encourage you to keep “showing up.” Keep walking forward. Keep getting up, again and again. For there’s great value in even those little things that you do to keep your faith on track. As my daughter, Karis, said this week in a talk she gave to a group of people at our church who were going through a difficult season of their lives:

“I was telling a friend recently how proud I was of him for staying steadfast when it would be easy to walk away, for declaring that God will always provide, even when situations aren’t easy. I want to start celebrating people for staying planted, for staying steadfast in the midst of storms. We usually celebrate people when they do these great things for the Lord but we don’t always celebrate when people stay, when they show up when it’d be easy to walk away, and I want to start doing that more often because I believe that staying is just as valuable. And I want to tell you that tonight, I’m so proud of you for staying. For coming and hearing this message, for choosing to stay in the house of God, and for placing yourself in a position to hear from Him.” (If you need some encouragement for a difficult season you’re going through in life, you can watch the rest of Karis’s 12-minute message at this link.)

Today, I want to tell you the same. I’m proud of you for reading this message. I’m proud of you for coming back to God again and again. I’m proud of you for sticking it out with Him, no matter what, and returning to Him over and over, even when it might have been easier to walk away.

I hope and pray that this study of the Psalms has sparked your interest in going further with God–further than you’ve ever gone before–so that you can truly enjoy fuller, deeper and richer conversations with Him. May these words be true about your conversations with Him from now on and forevermore:

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103).

 

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for speaking to us in little ways and little words, like “Amber Shellac,” words which may not mean much to others, but mean so much to us. Lord, thank You for wanting to have a conversation with us, as much as, and even more than, we sometimes want to have one with You. I pray today that You would spark in our hearts a love for You and Your Word that will carry us through every day ahead, for the rest of our lives.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again if you’d like to listen to an excerpt from Psalm 119:
Psalm 119:9-16, read by Lana Elder, with Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero,” played by Marilyn Elder

15 Tips For A Stronger Marriage

15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the best that it can be. Also includes 12 tips on parenting!
by Eric Elder

Read it online below!

You're reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

INTRODUCTION (Back to Table of Contents)

I was sitting with a couple recently to help them plan their wedding when the bride-to-be asked me to do something impossible: she wanted me to talk at her wedding about marriage and what made my marriage to my wife, Lana, so successful.

She said she admired our relationship and wanted to learn whatever she could to make her marriage the best that it could be.

Here’s why her request seemed so impossible: how could I possibly summarize 23 years worth of thoughts on marriage in such a short message on her wedding day? Yet her question also inspired me because I loved the idea of being able to pass along to them anything that might be helpful. So I began to think of all the tips I had heard before we got married, after we got married and throughout our 23 years of marriage. I quickly came up with 4 or 5 sermons to share at her wedding!

In the end, I only shared 1 simple message with them, based on 3 words, which I felt would help them get through anything they might face in the future. I’ll share those 3 words with you in chapter 6, as they serve as the glue that holds all the other tips together. But I still wanted to share with this couple all the other great tips that God had brought to my mind. The result is this little book that I’m now sharing with you.

I wish I could say that if you’ll just put these 15 tips into practice you’ll be guaranteed success in your own marriage, but relationships just don’t work like that. Each one of us is unique and each one of our relationships is unique. Yet I still believe each of these tips can be helpful to you in one way or another, even if it’s just to talk through them with your spouse, or spouse to be, and then adapt and apply them to your own relationship.

To make this book easier to read, I’ve divided it into 7 chapters, 6 of which are about marriage, with a bonus chapter at the end called “12 Tips On Parenting.” I wrote this chapter in response to another question by some other friends who asked for my thoughts on that topic.

Since this book has 7 chapters, you might want to read a chapter a day for 7 days or a chapter a week for 7 weeks. You might also want to go through this book with a few other couples who are newly married, nearly married or just want to strengthen their marriage, no matter how long they’ve been married. Who knows? This book may be just what they need to make their marriage not just good, but great!

Any way you do it, I pray God will bless you through it, both now and for many years to come.

In Christ’s love,
Eric Elder

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER 1 (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Here are the first 7 tips for a stronger marriage. I’ve kept these tips short to help you get started as quickly as possible, but I hope you won’t rush through them.

We have a game at our house called Othello. and the description on the box says the game takes “a minute to learn; a lifetime to master.” The same is true for each of these tips. You can probably read each one in just a few minutes, but they could take a lifetime to master!

So I hope you’ll take some time to really consider how to apply each one to your own marriage. With that in mind, here are the first 7 tips!

1) Pray with each other daily. Before Lana and I got married, I heard someone say that he prayed every night with his wife before they went to bed. He said this assured them of 2 things every day:

1- This assured them that each of them was being prayed for every single day of their lives. Since I believe in the power of prayer, I was so eager to try this even before I got married that I tried it with a friend who was my roommate at the time. It turned out to be so powerful, and we saw so many answers to our prayers, that I was convinced to keep doing it when I entered into marriage as well.

2- This also assured them that each of them would have a chance to express some of their deepest needs that they may never have shared otherwise. Often I would go through a whole day with Lana, talking and doing life together, and think that I knew what she probably wanted prayer for by the end of the day. But there were often times when I would ask her how I could pray for her and she would surprise me with something that I would have never guessed on my own.

No matter how late it was at night or what kind of mood we were in, we kept this commitment daily, even if it was just praying a blessing over each other in Jesus’ name. One of Lana’s favorite prayers to pray for me and for the kids was based on this verse from the Bible:

“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn His face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).

I shared this tip with the couple who inspired me to write this book and they posted a message on FaceBook just a few days into their honeymoon:

“A man filled with great wisdom told us before we got married that every night we should pray together before we fell asleep. So far in our short marriage we have done that. There is nothing more intimate.”

I agree! Pray with each other every day.

2) Take out the TV. Lack of communication is the #1 cause of divorce. It’s amazing how even having a TV in the room can impact your communication with your spouse. It’s always easier to turn on the TV than to talk to someone else. The TV doesn’t talk back; you don’t have to listen if you don’t want to. You can be delighted and entertained for hours on end without doing any of the heavy lifting of a relationship. Having a TV in the room is like always having a third person in your marriage. Even when it’s off, the temptation is still there to turn it on.

Lana and I read a book before we got married called The First Years of Forever by Ed and Gaye Wheat which argued convincingly that the patterns you set in the first 2 years of marriage will set the tone for the patterns you’ll have in your 7th year and 14th year and so on. So to set your patterns right from the start, make communication a #1 goal. Lana and I put our TV in the back of a closet for the first year of our marriage. The only time we took it out was when we heard that the Berlin Wall was being torn down live on television, 1 of the most significant news events of that year. Then back into the closet it went.

I can’t tell you the joy that Lana and I had that first year, just the two of us in our 1-bedroom apartment in Houston, Texas. It freed us up to spend all kinds of time together, whether it was cooking dinner, playing games, cleaning dishes, going out or making love. Someone had given us money to buy a new TV as a wedding present, which we saved to get one when our first year was over. But we enjoyed our life without a TV so much that we kept it that way for several years until we finally decided to buy one so we could watch movies or teach the kids. After 23 years, we still watched very little TV, nor did our kids, because we just never developed the a habit. (And when we did start watching TV again, we were shocked at how much more negative the content on TV seemed to have turned in just those few short years.)

Let me add here again that these are suggestions that you’ll have to adapt to your own situation, whether it’s limiting time on the Internet or social media, or watching only a set number of shows or sporting events per month, or whatever it takes to give you the best shot at increasing your time to communicate. As the Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians:

“Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive (1 Corinthians 10:23).

3) Combine your bank accounts. Communication is the #1 cause for divorce, but finances are a close second. Lana and I were encouraged at the beginning of our marriage to combine our bank accounts and share a checkbook. This meant that we had to talk about our purchases with each other so there were no surprises. This also kept us in check from making whimsical or unnecessary purchases. By combining our bank accounts we were also able to better save our money and make a priority of helping to fulfill each other’s dreams, whether it was a special trip for an anniversary or a missions trip to another country or a new vehicle when we needed one.

Because we had to make our decisions together, we simply made wiser decisions. Although it was harder at first because we had to work together, it kept us from having the mentality that “this is my money” and “this is your money.” We realized early on that “this is God’s money” and we wanted to spend it in the best way possible. As King David said to God:

“Everything comes from You, and we have given You only what comes from Your hand” (1 Chronicles 29:14b).

This may not apply to every situation or every stage of life, but it’s important to do something to make sure your finances enhance your marriage and not take away from it. For instance, I noticed that Lana was supportive whenever I was asked to speak anywhere special, but that doing so cost her in terms of my time and energy. So I began giving her any money I received from these extra speaking engagements, rather than using it for our every day bills. It was a simple way to make sure the money we received was working for our marriage, not against it.

4) Never use the “D” word: Divorce. There’s a funny line in the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, when the house maid Annie gives some money to George Bailey when he’s in dire straights. Annie says, “I’ve been saving this money for a divorce, if ever I got a husband!” It’s a funny line for a movie, but it’s a terrible line for real life. Sometimes you might be tempted to hold things back from your spouse “just in case things don’t work out.” But those very things that you’re holding back might be the pathway to greater intimacy if they were shared, whether it’s money or secrets or simply giving yourself as fully as possible to your spouse.

If you’re committed to marriage for life, which God certainly is, never use the word “divorce,” especially as a threat. Some people hold onto that option and use it as a weapon in an argument. But it’s not a weapon. Jesus said that Moses allowed for divorce only because of the hardness of people’s hearts, but that it wasn’t always that way from the beginning (see Matthew 19:8).

If you’re struggling in your marriage, keep your hearts soft and tender by looking for other ways to deal with your problems, whether you look to God, the Bible, prayer, counselors, friends or perhaps even time away. But not divorce. God says in the Bible:

“I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16).

And anyone who’s been through one knows why. When I’ve counseled couples for marriage, I’ve sometimes told them that I’m glad to bless their marriage, but on one condition: that if they ever consider a divorce, that they have to come back to me first and get my blessing for that, too. Then I let them know that in all my years of counseling people, I have never recommended that a couple divorce, even in some of the most intense situations. (I have, from time to time, let people know they have the freedom to divorce, both scripturally and as part of the free will that God has given us in all things. But I have also seen God work in some of the most intense situations, especially when both people are willing to do so, that I know I am not the one to recommend that option.)

5) Confess your sins quickly. I heard about a man who walked across America. He said his toughest moments weren’t when he was walking through the rain or snow or to the top of a tall mountain. He said his toughest times were when he got tiny grains of sand in his shoes. Unless he stopped to regularly dump out the sand, those tiny grains would rub against his feet until blisters formed and then he would suffer for days or weeks in extreme pain until his feet healed.

I heard this story in a sermon about marriage one Sunday morning, in the context of confessing even those small sins in our lives to our spouse, dumping them out of our shoes before they rubbed enough to cause more severe pain. I immediately thought of a particular friendship I had with someone that I enjoyed, perhaps a little too much. There was nothing sinful going on, but the fact that this friendship came to mind as I heard this story made me wonder if maybe I should confess it to Lana and ask her what to do about it. I didn’t want to mention it though, because I was afraid the best solution would be to step back from this friendship all together, and I didn’t want to lose the friendship.

But after a few days of praying, I realized that even though this issue seemed like no big deal, as small as a grain of sand, I knew I’d rather dump it out now than let it possibly endanger my marriage down the road. I confessed it to Lana and we agreed it would be best for me to back off from the friendship. Even though it was a good friendship in my life, I felt so much freer after stepped back and it never caused another problem again. Confess any sins right away, even if they’re as small as a grain of sand. As the Bible says,

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

6) Love your way through any “irreconcilable differences.” I once heard about an interviewer who asked several couples who had gotten a divorce how many “irreconcilable differences” they had in their marriage; things that they were simply never able to agree upon. The average answer was 5 or 6 “irreconcilable differences.” The interviewer then asked the same question of several couples who were still together after 40, 50 and 60 years. Their answer? 5 or 6! It wasn’t the number of irreconcilable differences that made the difference in whether the couples stayed together or not, but their commitment to love each other through them.

We’re all unique. We all have different backgrounds and life experiences. It’s no surprise that we think differently on various topics as well. It’s part of life and it’s all part of what makes being married work so much better than being alone for so many people, because they can each bring their best ideas to table. But invariably this means that many other ideas have to be left on the table, even good ones. Lana and I agreed on a lot of things, but there were probably 5 or 6 that we still never agreed on in all our years together.

We’re all like porcupines, with our various differences and sins poking out of us all the time. And when we get close enough to each other, there’s a good chance we’ll get poked. Yet even porcupines find a way to have baby porcupines. How do they do it? Very carefully!

Don’t let your sins and differences cause you to lose your commitment to a lifetime of marriage no matter what. Love your way through them instead. As the Bible says:

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (John 15:13).

7) Invite and allow Jesus to love your spouse through you. When I married Lana, I knew without a doubt that she was a gift from God to me. But I also realized that if she was a gift from God to me, then perhaps I was a gift from God to her, too. As such, I often wondered what Jesus would want me to do for her if He were here on earth, for the Bible says that we are the body of Christ and He wants to be able to live His life through us to touch others (see 1 Corinthians 12).

So when Lana would lay in bed at night, exhausted from a long day of taking care of everyone else around her, I would think, “What Would Jesus Do?” If Jesus was here, what would He want to say to her? What would He want to do for her? How would He minister to the deepest needs of her heart right now? Then I would try to let Jesus use me to love her, using my words to speak to her, my hands to stroke her head, my ears to listen to what she’d been going through during the day.

WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) might seem like a trite acronym to put on a bracelet or a bumper sticker, but it’s only trite if we make it so. If we take it seriously–and realize it’s exactly what God wants us to ask at all times and in all situations, especially with our spouse–it can change the dynamics of every relationship that we have.

As I was writing this message to you today, I happened to hear from the wife of a couple I had married several years ago. She shared with me that that this was the single most important tip she learned back then, and that it was the #1 thing that was getting her through the mess she and her husband were in right now, inviting and allowing Jesus to love her spouse through her.

Just as God has placed your spouse in your life as a gift to you, He has placed you in your spouse’s life as a gift to them. Invite and allow Jesus to love your spouse through you. As the Bible says:

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).

That’s enough tips for now (it’s enough for a lifetime, really!) But in the next several chapters I’ll share some more tips that can be just as significant as these. Then I’ll wrap it all up in Chapter 6 with those 3 simple words that serve as the glue to hold all the other tips together.

CHAPTER 2 (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

In this chapter I’m sharing just 4 tips with you. I’ve grouped these together because each one is related to how you balance your needs and callings with the needs and callings of your spouse. These can help to ensure that your marriage is a true partnership to help you both accomplish all that God has put on your hearts to do.

With that in mind, here are tips #8 through 11 for how to have a stronger marriage.

8) Be willing to live for your spouse. I spoke to a man who was divorcing his wife. She wanted to move to another state to fulfill some of her dreams, but he didn’t want to. They were at a stalemate and this was the last straw.

I asked him, “If someone threatened to kill your wife, would you be willing to die for her?”

“Yes, of course,” he replied.

Then I asked, “If you would be willing to die for her, would you be willing to live for her?”

We talked again shortly thereafter and he put his faith in Christ. He reconciled with his wife and they moved across the country. As Jesus told His disciples:

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Then Jesus proved His love for His friends by laying down His life for them.

Surprisingly, “laying down your life” doesn’t always mean giving up your own dreams and plans, too. For Jesus also said,

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it” (Matthew 16:25).

Sometimes it’s by helping your spouse achieve their dreams that you’ll be better able to fulfill your own dreams. If God is the one who has put special dreams and desires within both you and your spouse, then He’ll find a way to accomplish those dreams and desires for both of you, too.

9) Help your spouse achieve their goals. This may sound like the previous tip, but the difference is that sometimes you’ll have to take the initiative to help your spouse achieve their goals. It may be that God has put you in their life just for this purpose, because He knew they would need your unique help. After God created Adam, He said:

“It’s not good for the Man to be alone; I’ll make him a helper, a companion” (Genesis 2:18, MSG).

One of the main purposes for marriage, according to God, is so we won’t have to do life alone; that we’ll have a helper and a companion along the way.

Lana was both of those things to me: a wonderful companion and a terrific helper. She helped me do things I could never have done on my own, whether it was building a family or launching a ministry or giving me regular feedback and encouragement on my writing and speaking and planning and dreaming. At the same time, I was able to help her achieve some of her goals. Over the years, however, I realized that she still had other dreams and desires for her life which would never be realized if I didn’t step in to give her a boost. She wanted to do missions work in Africa, visit the Holy Land and make a movie about the life of St. Nicholas.

But with all of her other responsibilities, those dreams seemed either distant or impossible. So I sat down with her and began to pray about each one, asking God how I could help her achieve her dreams. Within a few years, I was able to help her take a missions trip to Africa, visit the Holy Land twice and write out the story of the life of St. Nicholas, which we planned to use as the basis for a movie someday. When we found out that Lana had cancer, I can’t tell you how thankful I was that I had stepped in to help her fulfill those dreams while she was still able to do themand I’d encourage you to do the same.

10) Remember your marriage is a calling, too. I think a word of caution is in order here, too. Be careful when considering giving up one type of “calling” to follow another. I shared my story with a group one day about quitting my job and going into full-time ministry. A woman came up to me afterwards to tell me how excited she was because God was calling her to do the same thing. After congratulating her for being willing to take this step of faith, I asked her what kept her from doing it before. She said, “Well, my husband won’t like it because I’m going to have to move and leave him behind.”

“As in divorce?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, and she looked at the floor.

I said, “Don’t forsake one type of calling (your marriage) to fulfill another. If this is from God, He’ll help you to do both.”

Your marriage is a calling just as much as any other kind of “calling.” When I quit my job and went into full-time ministry, I knew for me that meant living on faith for all of our financial provision (we all live on faith, actually; it’s just that sometimes we’re more acutely aware of it than others). But I also knew I was called to my marriage with Lana.

So I wrote Lana a letter, telling her that even though I felt called by God to do this ministry, I also felt called by God to marry her and to take care of her as best I could. I committed to her, right at the beginning of our ministry, that if ever she felt she wasn’t being cared for because of the ministry that I was doing, then I would quit doing ministry or I would find another way to do it so that I could care for her better.

I didn’t want to shortchange one calling to fulfill another. As the Bible says rather forcefully:

“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).

Lana never had to exercise her right to pull out the letter and pull me out of ministry, although she came close a few times. And whenever she did, we prayed together and I filled out applications for other jobs. God always made a way for me to fulfill both callings, however, so I could keep loving her well and keep doing ministry well. I knew that if I had to neglect one calling to fulfill another, then I was probably doing something wrong, and if God had called me to both, He would help me to find a way to do both.

11) Remember that God is the provider for both of you. If you haven’t noticed, each of these tips builds on the others. While there’s a lot that you can do for your spouse, you can’t do everything! There are some things only God can do. Ultimately, He’s the one who provides for you both. As the Bible says,

“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it…” (Psalm 24:1a).

When I was first dating Lana, we relied on each other for everything: our conversation, our intimacy, our affirmation, our affection. But when God broke us up for a period of time, we learned to rely on Him as the ultimate source of everything in our lives, including each other. When we finally came back together and eventually got married, we had a new awareness that God was the source of all we needed, even if He used one or the other of us to meet that need. He was still the source of it all.

I was reminded of how much God loved Lana one morning after we had had a funny conversation the day before. Her car had broken down and we needed to find another, but there was no way we could afford one. She told me the kind of car she really wanted to get. She had never cared about makes or models of cars before, just whatever would get her from Point A to Point B. When I looked at the prices of used models online, I thought, “Good luck with that!”

A friend of ours told us when he sent his daughter off to college, the only thing he had to give her were his prayers and these words: “The same God who takes care of me will take care of you.” God did His part, My friend did what he could do, his daughter did what she could do, and God did what only He could do. 4 years later she had a college degree!

So that night as I prayed for Lana and the car she wanted, I said at the end, rather jokingly, “Well, you’ve got my prayers! The same God who takes care of me will take care of you!” Then I rolled over and fell asleep.

The joke was on me, though, when the very next morning I pulled into the parking lot for a men’s group at church and a man pulled in right after me–driving the exact car that Lana had told me she wanted. He had never visited the group before and I had never seen another car like this around town. It was the same exact make, model and color that Lana had wanted!

I told the man that my wife was talking about getting a car just like that and he said he was actually thinking of selling it! I had to shake my head and confess to God that I had forgotten how much He loved her, too–even more than I did–and that He was the one who provided everything for her, just like He provided everything for me. Although we didn’t buy that man’s car, God made a way for us to buy another one–the same model, make and color–within just a few months of those feeble prayers. God really does love our spouse even more than we love them, and He loves to surprise and delight them, just as He loves to surprise and delight us.

Sometimes we make the mistake of trying too hard to please our spouse, only to fall short again and again, when what we really need to do is to trust God that He will provide for them, even when we can’t. So do your best and trust God with the rest.

That’s it for today, and probably more than enough “home work” for you to think about for this chapter! In the next chapter, I’ll share only 1 tip so you can focus on it exclusively.

CHAPTER 3 (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

One of the questions I’m asked most about marriage is “How did you know that Lana was ‘the one’ for you?” Today I’ll share that answer with you in Tip #12 for how to have a stronger marriage.

But don’t think that today’s tip is only for those who are considering marriage. Even if you’ve been married a long, long time, today’s tip can help to re-energize your marriage as you remember why you chose your spouse in the first place.

With that in mind, here’s tip #12 for how to have a stronger marriage.

12) Choose well (and remember why you chose the one you did). Next to your decision to follow Christ, choosing who to marry is the 2nd most important decision you’ll ever make in your life. It’s a decision that will affect you for the rest of your life, and it’s a decision that will affect generations of people long after you’re gone.

I read a book before I got married that scared me, and for good reason: I wasn’t ready to get married. Even though I loved Lana deeply, this book helped me see the enormity of the decision to get married and how it would affect my life from that moment on. The book was called The Mystery of Marriage by Mike Mason. Mike said:

“A marriage, or a marriage partner, may be compared to a great tree growing right up through the center of one’s living room. It is something that is just there, and it is huge, and everything has been built around it, and wherever one happens to be going–to the fridge, to bed, to the bathroom, or out the front door–the tree has to be taken into account. It cannot be gone through; it must respectfully be gone around. It is somehow bigger and stronger than oneself. True, it could be chopped down, but not without tearing the house apart. And certainly it is beautiful, unique, exotic: but also, let’s face it, it is at times an enormous inconvenience.

So there are many things that can be said about one’s life’s mate, but finally, irrevocably, the one definite thing that needs to be said is that he or she is always there. And that, while it may be common enough in the world of trees, is among us human beings a rather remarkable state of affairs” (Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage, p. 39).

The book goes on to describe how nothing in life does more to expose our pride, failings and weaknesses than being married. Our selfishness is exposed at every turn. As the Bible says:

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).

As helpful as it is for us to be sharpened, the process of chipping away at the ugly and unsightly things in our lives can be painful. I just wasn’t ready. I remember going to my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding, watching them take their vows for a lifetime and thinking, “I can’t do this! I just can’t do it!” It wasn’t that I didn’t love Lana, but that I couldn’t imagine giving up the idea of just living my life for myself.

In the months that followed, however, God began to show me all that I would gain by being married. I had recently put my faith in Christ, and I was already seeing the fruit of having invited Him into my life and taking His thoughts into account before acting on my own. I was eventually convinced that marriage could be worth giving up whatever independence I had before. The question then became, “Who does God want me to marry?”

Although the Bible gives us certain baseline criteria for choosing a spouse, such as believers marrying other believers (2 Corinthians 6:14a and 1 Kings 11:2b), not marrying close relatives (Leviticus 18:6-19), and marrying someone who can help God fulfill His recreative design for the world (Leviticus 18:22-23 and Romans 1:26-27), it doesn’t tell us which person, specifically, who God wants us to marry. At least I didn’t think so. For that, I knew I would have to rely on God’s Holy Spirit. And I’ve found that He is more than happy to help usas long as we’re willing to listen.

So how did I know that Lana was “the one”? For me, my answer came after months of asking God to speak to me clearly if she was the one that He wanted me to marry. I had already come to the conclusion that I wanted to marry her, but I needed to know for sure what God wanted, because I knew that He knew both of us better than we knew ourselves.

One morning I sat down in my bedroom to read my Bible, but didn’t know what to read. I had just finished reading my Bible from cover to cover a few days earlier for the first time in my life, and I wasn’t sure where to start reading again. So I decided to start over at the beginning.

Lana had come to visit me that morning, as we had already been out to watch a friend run a race in downtown Houston. We decided to take some time to pray on our own before going on with the day, so she sat on the couch in the living room with her Bible, and I went to the bedroom with mine. This was a refreshingly new practice for both of us in that previous year.

I opened up my Bible to the first page and began to read again about how God created the world, and how God created Adam, the first man on earth. God put Adam in a beautiful garden and asked him to take care of it. But God saw that even in the midst of this beautiful setting, surrounded by all kinds of spectacular things, Adam was still alone:

“The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him'” (Genesis 2:18).

So God created Eve and brought her to Adam.

Even though I had heard this story since I was a kid, this was the first time I had seen it from God’s perspective. As I read about Adam being alone in the garden, my heart fell as God’s must have fallen, when He saw how lonely Adam was. Then my heart rose again, as God’s must have risen, when God created Eve and brought her to Adam. I imagined the smile on Adam’s face must have about a mile wide!

As I pictured this scene in my mind, I suddenly had an intense awareness that God was looking down at me just as He had looked at Adam. There I was, surrounded by all kinds of spectacular things, but I was still alone. In that moment, God spoke to my heart. The words seemed to leap off the page, and I felt that God had done the same for me: He had created a woman just for me and He had brought her directly to me. She was sitting in the very next room! After months of praying, I knew that I knew that God really did want to fulfill the desires of my heart and He really did want me to marry Lana.

I got up off the floor and ran down the hall. I didn’t stop to look in the mirror as I ran, but I’m sure if I did, the smile on my face would have been about a mile wide. I told Lana what God had told me through the story of Adam and Eve. We talked and we cried and I asked her to marry me right on the spot. To my delight, she said “Yes!” and we spent the rest of that incredible day together walking and talking and riding paddle boats in the rain at Miller Park.

My eyes still water as I think about it again 25 years later. Even though I didn’t have a ring to give her, and we didn’t have a candlelight dinner, I had something that was even more precious to me: I had a word from God that Lana was “the one.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come back to that story over the years, both in good times and in hard times, and how it has re-energized my love for and commitment to Lana.

For Lana, the story was much simpler: she said she knew from the day she met me that God wanted her to marry me. She said that as soon as we met, there on the 2nd floor of David Kinley Hall at the University of Illinois, that these words immediately popped into her mind: “That’s the man you’re going to marry.”

She said it was the wording that made her realize it was from God, and the way that the words came into her mind. She said the words seemed to come into her mind out of the blue, and they were spoken in the 3rd person: “That’s the man you’re going to marry.” She said that if it was her own thought, she would have said to herself, “That’s the man I’m going to marry!” But she didn’t, and the words were clear: “That’s the man you’re going to marry.” She was so convinced that she went home that night and called one of her best friends to tell her she had just met the man she was going to marry. And she was right!

I tell you these stories not because I think God will speak to you in the exact same way, but to give you confidence that God can speak to you, if you’re willing to listen to Him. God’s Holy Spirit really is alive and active. And, believe it or not, God wants you to know who to marry even more than you want to know it. He has a bigger stake in the outcome of your life than you do, and He knows you and every other person on the planet even better than you know yourself.

I had been diligently seeking God for months for His answer (after dating Lana for years before finally coming to the place of asking God what He wanted for our relationship). And Lana had been praying ever since she was a child for a man to marry who would be like Jesus to her, not that I was ever close to that, but in her eyes at least, she felt that I was the answer to all those prayers.

Once I knew that Lana was the one for me, I knew there was never any going back. I was committed to planting that tree of marriage right in the center of my living room, and I was happier about it than I can possibly tell you. I never used the D word (Divorce) because I knew that wasn’t an option. I knew that for better or worse, neither of us were going away, and we were going to have to work through anything that came our way together. And I couldn’t have been happier about it.

Just like the words “God will never leave you alone” can be either a blessing or a curse depending on how you look at it, the idea of being with another person 24/7 for the rest of your life can be a blessing or a curse, too, depending on how you look at it. That’s why it’s so important to remember why you chose the one you did in the first place, because it can help restore the way you look at your marriage, not as a curse of always having someone else around, but as a blessing of always having someone else around.

If you’re still considering who to marry, I want to encourage you to choose well. No decision, other than your decision to follow Christ, is as important. And no decision this important is one that God wants you to take lightly. He would love to help you know who to marry, for He has a vested interest in the outcome of both of your lives.

For those of you who have already made your choice of who to marry and who are now living out that choice, perhaps even wondering if you made the right choice or not, I’d like to encourage you to look back and remember why you made that choice in the first place.

What was it that drew you to your spouse? What made him or her so special to you when you first met or when you first started dating? What did God speak to you about him or her along the way? What feelings or emotions stirred within you that made you want to make this commitment to be together forever? Choosing well is important, but remembering can be just as important to helping you stay committed to your choice. As Nehemiah said about the Israelites who went back on some of their earlier choices:

“They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles You performed among them” (Nehemiah 9:17).

They didn’t listen to God, and they failed to remember the miracles He performed among them. Don’t be like that! Listen to God, and then remember what God has told you.

I’m not saying it’s easy to choose who to marry or to stay married after you’ve made that choice, and I’m not saying that people won’t surprise you down the road with actions and decisions that catch us totally off guard. In fact, I’m saying just the opposite. I’m saying that none of us really know what we’re getting into when we commit to living with another person for the rest of our lives. None of us really know what’s in the hearts of other people living on the planet, let alone what’s in our own hearts. But God knows.

God knows what’s in our hearts, and He knows how to guide and direct us if we’re willing to listen. God also knows how to redeem ANY situation and ANY decision we ever make, even the bad ones. In fact, that’s why He sent Jesus to die: to redeem us from the poor choices we make, the sins we’ve committed along the way, so that we can live a new and abundant life, both here on earth and in heaven forever. No matter how you’ve arrived at the place you’re in right now, you can trust Him to redeem and restore it and to help make it right.

But if you’re not married yet, do yourself and everyone else around you a huge favor: Choose well! Listen to God, then remember the miracles He’s done among you.

CHAPTER 4 (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

I was going to call this tip “How to have a fair fight,” which captures the essence of the message well. But the idea behind this tip isn’t to help you fight better; the idea is to help you express your feelings better so you and your spouse can truly hear what each other is saying and do something about it before it becomes a fight.

I think you’ll find this tip applies to any of your relationships, not just your marriage. In fact, I heard from a single woman who wrote to tell me as I was writing this series to say how surprised she was that God was speaking to her through these marriage tips, even though she’s not married. She wrote:

“I was hesitant at first to read this devotional as I’m not married. I was just scrolling through and saw a part about Lana and yourself getting a car and about marriage being a calling. So I decided to start from the top for I believed God wanted me to learn a thing or two and also to be encouraged as I was feeling a bit down and questioning my future. I enjoyed it and it made me laugh how God worked out your differences, even your breaking up and eventually getting married. That gave me hope since I’m single and struggling relationship wise. My concern about my future especially is that I really want to change my car and I laughed with tears coming to my eyes when you said about Lana’s desires for a car and how you reassured her about God working and providing for you and He will do the same for her. I like the part too about your partner understanding your purpose & dreams and how God can use you to help each other reach their potential and how God can use each other to bring about change & transformation. I have always believed that. Thanks for sharing your testimony. I must read the 7 points from earlier and see what else God wants me to know. God bless!”

So whether you apply this tip to your marriage or to any relationship, I hope you’ll read today’s tip closely and let God speak to your heart.

13) Watch your timing, tone and words. Lana and I didn’t fight often, and when we did, we tried to do so in private. This may have given others the impression that we never fought, but that’s not true. I will say, though, that we were able to avoid many of the all-out fights that others experience simply by following some advice that we learned during pre-marital counseling and some other wisdom that we learned for ourselves from the Bible.

This tip involves 3 aspects of how you express your feelings to each other: your timing, your tone and your words.

First, watch your timing. It’s important, of course, to share your feelings and not to stuff them down inside. We all have feelings and we want others to respect our feelings. But it’s also important to consider the timing of when to share those feelings. Even Jesus didn’t say everything that was on His heart to His disciples, but took into account when they would best receive what He had to say. Jesus said:

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear” (John 16:12).

Jesus eventually did share everything on His heart, and He told the disciples that He would send His Holy Spirit later to remind them of everything He said. But He did so at a time when He knew they could best receive it.

Lana and I found that if we had something important to share with each other, especially if it was potentially explosive, that it was best to talk about it when we were both fresh and alert and able to talk about it rationally. We seemed to have our worst conversations when one or both of us were tired and worn out or when we had pressing deadlines that had to be met. It was better if we could realize the timing was bad and set a time to talk later when we could truly listen to each other.

Second, it’s important to watch your tone. It’s easy to jump to conclusions and blame your spouse for things they didn’t even know were wrong. In America, we love the idea of being “innocent until proven guilty.” But in marriage, we often jump to the conclusion that our spouse is guilty and we start an argument based on that assumed guilt rather than simply explaining what we’re feeling. The Bible talks about the importance of tone when it says:

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).

When I came to Lana with gentleness, simply sharing something that I was feeling, I was usually met with a gentle response in return. But when I came to her with a harsh or accusatory tone, it stirred up a harsh or angry response. This is a simple law of nature and it’s a simple law of communication: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Instead of looking straight at your spouse and assuming they are the problem, it’s better to turn shoulder to shoulder and address the problem together. It might even help to remind yourself and your spouse, “I know you’re not my enemy. I’m fighting for you, not against you.” By simply reminding yourselves of this truth, you can often diffuse the bomb that might otherwise explode.

I remember being called to a friend’s house late one night. She and her husband were in the middle of an argument–and it was bad. In fact, when I walked in, I wondered if she should have called the police instead of me.

But as I sat down with both of them and listened to what they were arguing about, it turned out that the husband was trying to tell his wife that he wished he could spend more time with her, because she was often out helping other people in need. They were talking past each other, though, because they were talking about 2 different things. The truth was that they both wanted to do something good; they just needed to work on how to achieve those good things together.

Here the wife thought her husband hated her for wanting to help others, when the truth was that he loved her so much he wanted to spend more time with her! And he loved that she wanted to help other people, but he just wished she would spend more of that energy on him, rather than depleting it all before she got home. By talking through both of their desires, without accusation or harsh words, they were able to find a way to move forward and help meet each of their desires more fully.

This story leads to the third aspect of how to have a fair fight, which is to watch the words you choose. Here’s a simple phrase you can memorize and, if you start using it today, you’ll find your conversations will go much smoother immediately. The phrase is:

“I feel … when … because … “

This focuses the issue on you and your thoughts and feelings rather than on the other person.

In the story I shared above about the couple fighting, the husband started with an accusatory tone by saying “You’re always out helping other people!” To which his wife immediately reacted by saying, “What’s wrong with helping other people?!?” Then she started listing all the good and godly reasons to help others. She was also stung by the word “always” and said, “I’m not always out helping other people!!!” because she began to recall how many the times she stayed home to help him or their family. (It’s better just to drop the words “you always” or “you never” from arguments, because the other person can usually think of at least a few times when they did or did not do whatever they’re being accused of doing).

But because of the husband’s wording (and probably his timing and tone, based on the lateness and intensity of the conversation), he had inadvertently derailed the conversation from the beginning and they began squabbling over side issues. Rather than starting the sentence with the accusatory words “You always…,” consider if he had started by saying, “I feel…,” and then filled in the blanks that followed:

“I feel hurt when you go out to help others because I’d like to spend more time with you myself.”

That’s really what the husband was trying to say, but it came out as anger and jealousy rather than love and affection. By blaming her for wanting to help others, he put her on the defensive from the start, rather than simply expressing what he really wanted, which was to spend more time with her.

Using the words “I feel … when … because…” changes the tenor of your conversations immediately and helps you get closer to meeting your own needs sooner than if you get sidetracked on secondary conversations. You may still need to have those secondary conversations, but you’ll realize that they are just that: secondary. The main thing is to be able to express what you’re feeling, without blame or accusation, by describing how you feel when the other person does or does not do certain things.

Your choice of words can make all the difference, not only for yourself, but also for the other person. The Bible says:

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11, NKJV).

Which means that words that are well timed and placed are beautiful to behold.

As an exercise to help you think through your words the next time you need to express something you’re feeling, imagine a conversation that you may be currently having with your spouse (or co-worker or friend), whether it’s a conversation you’ve been having out loud or if it’s still just in your head, and try to rephrase what you’re feeling using the words “I feel… when… because.”

Think hard about what you’re really feeling and why. Rather than accusing the other person in your head, imagine that you’re truly just trying to express your feelings and what triggers those feelings.

I feel lonely
I feel frustrated

I feel hurt
I feel unappreciated

when you come home late
when you move my piles
when you forget to do what I ask
when you correct me

because I want to go to bed with you
because I don’t know where things are when I need them
because I want to know that you care about me
because I’m trying hard to do the right thing

You can see how each of these statements could lead to further discussion and exploration of why the person feels what they feel and finding a solution that is beneficial for both people.

You might be thinking, “That sounds like a lot of work,” and you’d be right! It is! But the payoff is worth it.

In woodworking there’s a saying, “Measure twice; cut once.” When you carefully take the time to measure a piece of wood twice and then cut it only once, you save yourself a whole lot of time patching things up later. The same could be said of your words: “Think twice; speak once.” As the Bible says:

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19b).

Although it takes extra time and effort to think through your timing, your tone and your words, you’ll save yourself a whole lot of time and effort in patching things up later!

Coming up next, tips #14 and 15!

CHAPTER 5 (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Today I’m sharing the last 2 tips of these 15 tips for a stronger marriage. Then in next chapter I’ll conclude with 3 words that tie all the other tips together.

But before I get started on today’s tips, I want to let you know that Tip #15 is perhaps the most significant tip I ever received before getting married. It’s also one of the most delicate to talk about because it has to do with physical intimacy.

For the sake of modesty, and for the sake of getting this message through any spam filters when I first sent this message out by email, I’ve simply used the phrase “physical intimacy” to describe the physical union between a husband and wife, and I’ve used the term “self pleasure” to describe the act of touching yourself in a way that brings you physical pleasure when you are alone. (Now you can see why this tip is so delicate! But I assure you, what you’re going to read today could significantly alter the way you interact with your spouse from this day forward!)

With that preface in mind, here are Tips #14 and 15.

14) Commit to doing something to delight your spouse on a regular basis.  Before I married Lana, I promised to give her a back rub every night, which was something that she absolutely loved. It worked out well for both of us, because she loved being touched, and I loved touching her! For 23 years I kept that commitment and it was one of the best things I ever promised to do, both for her and for myself.

Those back rubs also led to other kinds of intimacy, setting the tone for our bedtime conversations and often culminating in physical passion. By blessing Lana in this one way, I received all kinds of blessings back.

I also committed to making breakfast for her every morning, something which she loved at the time we got married, too. But as time and the seasons of life changed, she began to prefer other things instead, like sleeping in a little longer while I made breakfast for the kids after she had spent the night nursing a baby! I say this to say that some of our commitments may change over time, but the point is to intentionally commit to doing something to delight your spouse on a regular basis. It smooths out the ebbs and flows of life and ensures there’s joy in the midst of anything else that might be going on.

For her part, Lana had made a commitment before we got married, too, but one that she didn’t tell me about until many years into our marriage. She just did it. She committed to herself that she would go to bed every night at the same time that I went to bed. She had watched other couples live their lives in separate bedrooms for years and she saw the devastating effects that this had on their relationships. So she told herself she was going to do whatever she could to try to ensure that didn’t happen in her marriage.

Of course, this ensured she got her nightly back rub! But even more, it meant that we had time to talk and pray together every night; it meant that we were available for physical intimacy on a regular basis; and it increased the likelihood of having a big family like she always wanted!

You and your spouse may have a different set of things you could do to delight one other. If you’re not sure what would delight them, just ask them! Then make a commitment to doing something to delight them in the way they’d love to be delighted on a regular basis. As the Bible says:

“…love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22b).

15) Make physical intimacy with your spouse the best that it can be. After I was engaged to Lana, I set up an appointment to meet with a man who had counseled many, many people through marital issues regarding their physical intimacy. I met with him specifically because I wanted to ensure that I did everything possible to safeguard our physical relationship and to make it the best that it could possibly be.

One of the most important tips he shared with me was to consider making a commitment to myself and to Lana that I would not engage in self pleasure, but that I would only experience physical pleasure when I was with her. Many men, he said, go into marriage thinking that they’ll be able to be intimate with their wife any time they want. But the reality is that it just doesn’t work that way! And because of that, many spouses decide to simply please themselves whenever they want.

This man told me that he had met with numerous groups of women to discuss issues like this, and asked them what they would think if they knew their husbands were pleasing themselves when they weren’t together. Nearly every woman in every group said they would feel hurt by this, or they would wonder what they were doing wrong that their husbands would do this, or they would wonder what else their husbands might be doing physically when they weren’t together.

Then this man went on to tell me about the blessings couples experienced who had committed to enjoying physical pleasure only when they were together. He said it wasn’t necessary that they engage in full physical intimacy every time, but that they were at least to be with each other and enjoy the closeness of their bodies. Couples who made this commitment built up trust, lowered barriers to intimacy and brought about a lifetime of fulfillment for each other, both inside and outside of the bedroom.

Since I had never even considered how this might play out in marriage, I didn’t know what to think. But this man had thrown down a gauntlet, a challenge, and I had to decide whether or not I was going to pick it up. After talking some more about this with another friend and then with Lana, I decided it was worth a try. So before Lana and I were married, I committed to her that I would not engage in self pleasure, but reserve all physical pleasure only for when I was with her. If for any reason I fell down in this commitment, I committed to confessing it to her before the day was out.

I can attest to the fact that this one tip alone helped me perhaps more than any of the others. Why? Because each of these tips are interrelated and physical intimacy is at the core of what makes marriage unique among all other relationships. So when there’s a breakdown in one area of your relationship, it often affects your physical intimacy as well. In order to ensure I would be able to enjoy the physical pleasures of marriage, I knew I would have to nurture the other areas of my marriage, too. As the saying goes:

“The grass ain’t always greener on the other side; it’s greener where you water it.”

Here’s how some of the tips I’ve mentioned already helped to water our physical intimacy. For instance, by putting our TV in the closet for our first year, it freed up all kinds of time to have meaningful conversations and enjoy soothing back rubs, which often led to physical intimacy. By going to bed every night at the same time as each other and by praying together before we fell asleep, we were able to draw closer spiritually and that drew us closer physically. By confessing our sins quickly to each other, we built up trust between us and kept guilt and shame at bay. By inviting Jesus to use our hands and eyes and words as if they were His very own, we were able to keep our touches and kisses as tender and life-giving as possible.

This isn’t to say that it was easy for me to keep this challenge. Even though my physical intimacy with Lana was incredible from day 1, there were still a few times in our first year of marriage when I fell back into old habits of pleasing myself when I was alone or away from home. It seemed like a quick and easy way to release some of the tension in other areas of my life.

Yet I still wanted to give this idea an honest try, and because of my promise to Lana, I followed through with the rest of it and confessed it to Lana each time before the day was out. The first time I had to confess it to her it was more difficult and embarrassing than I imagined. The second time was even more difficult. So after just a few confessions like this, I was able to break the habit and keep my commitment for the rest of our 23 years of marriage.

I’m not telling you this out of some kind of prudish purity, but simply to let you know that it’s possible! And believe me, my passions and temptations are just as strong as any other man’s! But until my conversation with this marriage counselor, I had never even thought about the idea.

I also tell you this because I can’t describe the multitude of ways this one commitment helped our marriage. Here are just a few:

1) This gave us both confidence that I had control over my body, rather than my body having control over me. This helped Lana to trust me to not cross the line of having physical pleasure with someone else, because I wouldn’t even cross it with myself.

2) This kept me from turning on the TV in a hotel room when I was away from home, or from buying a magazine that I shouldn’t have bought, or from downloading a video that I shouldn’t have downloaded. Even though these things certainly crossed my mind and were ever-present opportunities, there was never any point to engaging in these activities since I knew that they would never culminate in physical pleasure.

3) This ensured that the physical side of our marital relationship was fully alive and vibrant throughout our entire marriage. Roger Staubach, the famous quarterback, was once asked how he felt when one of his teammates always seemed to have a different woman on his arm every night. Roger said, “I’m sure I’m just as sexually active as he is. The difference is that all of mine is with one woman.” Touchdown, Roger! The joy of my physical intimacy with Lana, and the trust that we built into our relationship because of this one commitment, was worth anything it might have cost me in terms of giving up fleeting pleasures on my own.

While I can’t say if this commitment is something that you should make, or that it will have the same impact on your marriage, I do want to encourage you to do whatever you can to nurture the physical intimacy of your marriage.

By the way, one of the best books we read before getting married that helped us in our sexual relationship throughout our entire marriage was called Intended For Pleasure by Ed and Gaye Wheat. The book contains many helpful tips for making your sex life the best that it can be. I highly recommend it for any married couple.

As I mentioned in my own book, What God Says About Sex, physical intimacy with Lana was the most consistently exhilarating, off-the-charts experience of my life! So whether or not you choose to follow the path I chose, I pray you’ll make a commitment to do something to protect your physical intimacy and to keep it alive and active as long as you both shall live. As the Bible says:

“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure…” (Hebrews 13:4a)

Honor your marriage and keep your marriage bed pure. Don’t look for other ways to find physical pleasure. Look to your spouse and do whatever you can to nurture your relationship with them.

In the next chapter, the conclusion of this series!

CHAPTER 6 (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Believe it or not, all the tips I’ve shared with you up till now were just the preface, the introduction, to what I’d like to share with you today about how to have a stronger marriage.

When my friends asked me to talk about marriage at their wedding, and what made my marriage to Lana so special, I began to think through all the tips I’ve shared with you up to this point.

But as important as each of those tips are, I felt like the most important thought I could share with them was the one I’m going to share with you today. This idea focuses on just 3 words that really serve as the glue to hold all the other tips together.

Although there are a number of great phrases of 3 words I could have chosen (like “I love you,” “I was wrong,” “I am sorry,” “I forgive you,” or as one reader suggested, “You’re right, dear!”), I chose these 3 because they were 3 words our pastor shared with us at our wedding, and because they conclude a wonderful chapter in the Bible about how we relate to one another. I can honestly say these 3 words carried us through our 23 years together perhaps more than any other advice I’ve shared with you in this book.

You can read below the words I shared with my friends on their wedding day. You can also watch their wedding online on The Ranch website at the link below. It was a beautiful outdoor ceremony, complete with birds chirping and bales of hay on which the guests sat. The the ceremony’s only about 30 minutes long, so feel free to take a look!

Here’s the link to watch:
Watch Korey and Makayla’s Wedding

And here’s the text of what I shared with this beautiful couple that day…

When I met with Korey and Makayla a few months ago to talk about their wedding, Makayla asked me to share some thoughts about what marriage means and what made my marriage to Lana work so well. She said she looked up to us and just wanted to hear from my heart.

So I’m going to tell you 3 short highlights, 3 little snippets from my life and my marriage that I hope will be helpful to you. Really it’s summed up in 3 words; 3 words that I hope you’ll remember today; 3 words that I hope you’ll be able to put into practice in your own marriage.

You might think these 3 words are “I love you,” but they’re not. They’re these:

“And be thankful.”

There’s a passage in the Bible that says many things about loving and caring for one another. The passage talks about all the things that we associate with love, such as:

“…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12b-14).

These are all wonderful things. But then Paul goes on and adds these 3 words to all the rest, words that seem to go beyond even just loving each other. Paul says,

“And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15b).

Then he says it again in a lengthier way at the end of the whole passage:

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17).

I just want to tell you 3 little snapshots from my life about giving thanks to God for my wife.

On our wedding day, Lana and I wrote our own vows, like you’ve written your own vows. In my vows, I said to Lana: “Lana, you are a gift from God to me, and I plan to treat you as a gift.” From that day on that’s what I tried to do. That was the most amazing day to me, to be able to receive this gift from God and to be able to unwrap it over and over and over again, discovering layers of her that I had no idea about.

On our wedding day I said, “Thank You, Lord, and thank You, Lana, for saying ‘Yes!’ to marrying me.”

Then I just kept saying that throughout my whole 23 years. When I would see how she raised our children, I would say, “Thank You, Lord, for this incredible mother of our children and thank you, Lana, for being a godly mother and wife.” When I would see how she cooked meals for us, took care of us, edited my manuscripts for my ministry, I’d say, “Thank You, Lord, and thank you, Lana.” Lana was a gift from God, and I was so thankful for her.

Our wedding day was 1 snapshot, but there was another snapshot I’d like to share with you, and you, Makayla, were actually very nearby. We were in Israel and Makayla and Jeanette had come with a few of us in our family to Israel and we were in the hotel at the Dead Sea. We had just had a beautiful night of worship, worshipping God in our room with our whole team. After everyone had left, Lana and I went out on the balcony on a beautiful night, and we had a wonderful, romantic, intimate night together. In the midst of that precious night, I just looked up to heaven and I said, “Thank You, Lord, and thank you, Lana.” That was 1 of the most precious memories of my life. I can’t count how many wonderful nights I’ve had like that with her, so often saying in the midst of them, “Thank You, Lord, and thank you, Lana.”

Then there’s a third moment I’d like to share with you, a little snapshot, and this was was just a couple years ago. We were in the car at Walmart, sitting in the parking lot after shopping one night. We were having a really hard conversation; one of those where you say, “Wow, this is hard.” We didn’t have many of those, but that night we were both feeling very passionate about what we felt and believed, and we just weren’t on the same page.

The conversation had to do with what kind of treatment plan we were going to do for her cancer. I had one idea. She had another. And it just got more heated and more passionate. The doctors had told us no matter which path we chose, it wouldn’t make any difference in the outcome, but we still wanted to try everything we could.

When were at the peak of that conversation, I had to stop and just say to myself, “Lana is a gift from God to me; she is not the problem here.” Then rather than face each other and think that we were each other’s problem, we had to put the problem to one side and turn shoulder to shoulder to work on it together.

I just had to back up and say, “Lana, you are a gift from God to me, and the reason I feel so passionate about this is because I just don’t want to lose you. I want to do anything I can to keep you. And I want to remind you, in this conversation, in this heated moment, the only reason I feel so passionate about this is because I love you, so, so much.”

That eased the tension. It changed the dynamics of the conversation.

In the end, it turned out the doctors were right and it wouldn’t have mattered which plan we chose. Lana died just a few months later.

But I am so thankful that in those heated moments in the parking lot, I decided not to keep arguing over it, but rather to give thanks in all things and say, “Thank You, Lord, and thank you, Lana.” She truly was a gift from God to me and I always wanted to treat her as a gift.

With all the other wonderful things you can do for your marriage, remember these 3 words because they can carry you through your whole life:

“And be thankful.”

You understand what it means to forgive. You understand what it means to make a lifelong commitment. You understand love and graciousness and kindness and humility and being second and all those things.

I think you understand this, too, but I just want to highlight and emphasizeeven beyond just loving each other, which is incredibleto be thankful.

“And be thankful.”

“And be thankful.”

“And be thankful.”

And with those words, I married my friends to each other and I prayed that they, like you, would have a long, wonderful and thankful life together!

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for Your wisdom, which You’ve given to us through Your Word to help us to love one another in the best way possible. Help us to apply these words to all of our relationships so that we can love one other more fully and be more thankful in all that we do. Fill us with Your Spirit to do everything You’ve put on our hearts to do today and every day, from this day forward. We pray all this in the strong name of Jesus, who has the power to make all our relationships stronger, too. Amen.

BONUS CHAPTER – 12 TIPS ON PARENTING! (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

As a father of 6 kids, I’m always glad to hear what others are doing to parent their kids. So when some friends of my college-age kids asked me what advice I would give them for raising kids of their own in the future, I put together this list of some of the best pieces of wisdom we gathered over the years that have worked well for us. I thought you might like to read it, too.

Since there are 12 tips and there are 12 months in the year, you might want to focus on trying 1 tip a each month. They’re not in any particular order, so you can pick a tip for each month that seems most helpful to you at the time.

And even if you don’t have kids in your life right now, maybe you know someone who does who might be interested in reading these tips. If so, please pass them along, as each tip includes a special word from God’s Word. Even though I’m not a perfect father, I know Someone who isand His wisdom can’t be beat! With that disclaimer out of the way, here are my “12 Tips On Parenting.”

1) Recognize that children are gifts from the Lord. Your attitude towards your children may be the single-most important item in your parenting toolbox. The Bible says that children are blessings, not burdens: “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them” (Psalm 127:5a).

You can check your attitude by asking what your heart feels when you hear of someone who already has 2 or 3 children and they tell you they’re expecting a 3rd or 4th. Or 5th. Or 6th. Or 7th, etc. If your heart sinks with the addition of each child, you may secretly be viewing children as burdens, not blessings. If the same person had told you God had given them a 3rd or 4th car (or 5th or 6th or 7th, etc.), or a 3rd or 4th house (or 5th or 6th or 7th, etc.) and your attitude is like “Wow! That’s incredible!” then you may want to rethink your attitude.

Children do take time and energy and attention, just as cars and houses do, and more children take more time and energy and attention, just as more cars and more houses do (just ask anyone who has more than one of any of these!) With great gifts comes great responsibility. But children, like any gifts from the Lord, are still gifts to be treasured, valued and held in the highest regard. Check your attitude, and remember that children really are gifts from the Lord.

2) Love your spouse. This tip may not seem like it has anything to do with parenting, but it’s actually one of the best tips on this list! I have a plaque from my dad that says: “The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” My dad reminded me of this one day when I was feeling particularly inadequate about my parenting. He said, “You have no idea what you’re doing for your children just by loving Lana.” Looking back over the years, I’m sure he was right.

A genuine love between parents can do more for children than we can imagine. The Bible says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her… and the wife should respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:25 and 33b). Parents at odds cause children to take sides and respect only one or the other parent (or neither) and kids can play off that to try to get what they want. If you want your children to treat others with love and respect, then treat your husband or wife with love and respect (even if they don’t do the same for you). Your children will be blessed as a result.

3) Realize that children take time. Children do take time, but they don’t take time away from life. Children take time that enhances life. Trips to the zoo, trips to the beach, sitting down and playing games, setting limits on your workdays and Sundays and weekends so you can be with them, all take time away from other things you could be doing. But the return on your investment is so much greater, both in the moment and in the long run.

For Lana, when she decided to stay home from work so she could homeschool our kids and spend more time with them, it was costly on many levels: financially, personally and professionally. But she never felt like she was wasting her life by doing this, but investing her life. When she was facing death, way too young at the age of 48, she said she was thankful she had spent her time the way she didwith no regrets. Quality time is sometimes only possible because quantity time makes it so.

4) Let everyone work together to make the household work. One of the blessings for me of having a larger family has been to see how all the kids can work together to help keep our household running. Doing everything for our kids was never an option because we simply couldn’t do it all. Responsibilities were given to each child as soon as they were able, from cooking and cleaning to dishes and laundry, from building and bookkeeping to yardwork and petkeeping.

The Bible says, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10, MSG). We never taught this in a mean-spirited way, but as a matter of getting things done more efficiently (or getting things done at all!) whether it was getting food to the table or chores finished on Saturday. For us, giving kids responsibility was both practical (for keeping our house running) and good training for their future.

5) Discipline in love, not in anger. Discipline is simply more effective when it is separated from anger. The Bible says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right…” (Ephesians 6:1) but that is quickly followed by these words: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

I’ve found it best not to explode at my children, not because I don’t want to, but because it’s not useful. They can’t hear you–or your love for them–when you’re screaming. The times I most regret in my parenting are the times when I’ve disciplined in anger. But I’ve never regretted disciplining in love because that has set the stage for their future success in life. A simple tip: count to 10 before disciplining children. For teenagers, wait a week! (I’m serious!)

6) Pray for God to reveal the truth, even if it’s painful to hear. A pastor’s kid once said that it wasn’t fair that his dad was a pastor, because God always seemed to tell his parents whenever he was doing something wrong. We really can pray that God will show us what’s going on in our kids’ lives, even when we can’t see it ourselves. The Bible says, “He [God] gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; He knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with Him” (Daniel 2:21b-22).

There have been times when I have prayed that God would show me if there’s anything I should know about my kids so I can help them stay on the right path, even if it’s something I didn’t want to hear. I’ve been surprised when, soon after a prayer like this, God has revealed something to me–whether in a dream or a phone bill or an unexpected email–that was painful to hear but has opened the door to a conversation where I can help walk my kids through a difficult situation.

7) Love doesn’t always say “Yes.” A good parent wants to bless and please their children. But some parents say “Yes” to their kids’ pleas solely to win their love and friendship, not because it’s good or best for them. There are times when your kids need a best friend and there are times when you can be one for them. But there are other times when they need you to be a parent, and only you can do that for them.

Some parents say “Yes” to all things in order to win their children’s friendship. But a well-timed or well-reasoned “No” can be just as loving. The Bible says, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11), which means that certain words we say are beautiful and perfectly fit for the occasion. While this applies to words of any type, it can especially apply to our yes’s and no’s.

8) Keep your words uplifting and encouraging. As parents, our words have an extra weight of authority. As such, we have to be extra careful with what we say, especially when it comes to criticism. Some people may say, “They have a face only a mother could love.” But what if it’s the mother who says, “You’re ugly!” or “You can’t sing!” or “You’re no good at __________ or _________ or __________!”

A good rule of thumb is to give at least 10 positive affirmations for every 1 correction, and then only if it’s necessary for their benefit (for instance, to save them from embarrassment in public). Watch your words, especially your words of criticism. The Bible says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

9) Pray for your children starting before they’re born, both privately and out loud. We’ve prayed for each of our children from the moment we knew they were in Lana’s womb. We’ve prayed for their lives, their health, their faith, their futures, their callings, their spouses, their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren and so on! We’ve done this privately in our own quiet times, as well as out loud at nighttime when we tuck them into bed and kiss them good night.

I still do this even for my college-age kids when they’re home, putting my hand on their heads and praying for them before they go to bed (or before I go to bed, which is more often the case these days!) It may seem awkward, but I believe in the power of prayer, plus I think it’s important that our kids know that we’re praying for them, as a matter of love and care. As the Bible says: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

10) When your kids sin, love ’em more. Sometimes our kids do things that make us frustrated and make us want to pull back from them. But I’ve found that’s the time I need to “love ’em more.” Someone once asked the famous evangelist Billy Graham what he would do if he found out one of his children had sinned. He said, “Why, I’d love that one even more.” It’s not that Rev. Graham would love them more because of their sin, but because he knew that love is the best antidote to sin.

Our kids need love and acceptance, just like we do, and that’s why they sometimes seek it out in the wrong places, just like we do. It’s at times like these that they need to see our love and forgiveness for them more than ever, just as Jesus did for us when He died on the cross. As the Bible says, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). When your kids hurt you or mistreat you or disappoint you, don’t pull back. Do what Jesus did and “love ’em more.”

11) Take breaks for rainbows. A life with kids is filled with interruptions. But don’t take the interruptions as sidelines from life, but as one of the best parts of life itself. We have a painting in our home that says, “The work will wait while you show the children the rainbow, but the rainbow won’t wait while you finish the work.” Take advantage of those fleeting moments to enjoy your life with your children.

It’s OK to stop and smell the roses. The Bible says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). When we moved to the country, Lana and I would take walks with our kids at sunset whenever we had the chance. There were always plenty of other things to do, but none of them so memorable to me as those sunset walks.

12) Let kids be kids, but don’t let them be in danger. There’s a fine line between letting kids be kids and letting them be in danger, because a lot of the things kids do can be dangerous! It’s one thing if they want to let their hair grow out, but quite another if they want to hang out with dangerous people. It’s one thing to let them be adventurous, but quite another to let them do something that’s truly life threatening.

I’ve had to walk that fine line and have had multiple conversations with my kids about each of these things. And God is the one who has had to remind me multiple times to let my kids be kids, especially my teenagers. But I’ve also had to step in and say, “I’m glad to let you be a teenager, but I won’t let you be in danger.” That’s just wisdom, and knowing which is which often comes only from God, who is happy to let us know the difference. If you’re not sure what to do in a situation, ask God who is glad to pour out His wisdom on you. As the Bible says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

 

Thanks for reading these 12 tips on parenting and thanks for passing them along to others who might benefit from reading them. Again, you might want to choose 1 tip each month to focus on with your kids this year or you might want to reread this message from time to time in the years ahead as your kids go through different stages of life. As I’ve been reminded often, none of us are perfect parents. But with God’s help, we can keep trying to be the best that we can be.

May the Lord bless you as you seek to love and bless the children in your life!

In Christ’s love,
Eric Elder

(Back to Table of Contents)

Thanks for reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Thanks for reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

St. Nicholas: The Believer

A new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas
by Eric and Lana Elder

Read it online below!

Or Listen to Part 1 here (29-1/2 minutes, including the Dedication, Introduction, Prologue and Chapters 1-5)

 

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric and Lana Elder

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

DEDICATION (Back to Table of Contents)

This book is dedicated to my sweet wife, Lana, who inspired me and helped me to tell you this spectacular story.

Lana had just finished making her final edits and suggestions on this book the week before she passed from this life to the next, way too young at the age of 48.

It was her idea and her dream to share the story of St. Nicholas with as many people as possible. She wanted to inspire them to give their lives to others as Jesus had given His life for us. This book is the first step in making that dream a reality.

To the world Lana may have been just one person, but to me she was the world. This book is lovingly dedicated to her.

INTRODUCTION (Back to Table of Contents)

by Eric Elder

There was a time when I almost gave up celebrating Christmas. Our kids were still young and weren’t yet hooked on the idea of Santa Claus and presents, Christmas trees and decorations.

I had read that the Puritans who first came to America were so zealous in their faith that they didn’t celebrate Christmas at all. Instead they charged fines to businesses in their community who failed to keep their shops open on Christmas day. They didn’t want anything to do with a holiday that was, they felt, rooted in paganism. As a new believer and a new father myself, the idea of going against the flow of the excesses of Christmas had its appeal, at least in some respects.

Then I read an article by a man who simply loved celebrating Christmas. He could think of no greater way to celebrate the birth of the most important figure in human history than throwing the grandest of parties for Him–gathering and feasting and sharing gifts with as many of his family and friends as possible. This man was a pastor of deep faith and great joy. For him, the joy of Christ’s birth was so wondrous that he reveled in every aspect of Christmas, including all the planning, decorating and activities that went along with it. He even loved bringing Santa Claus into the festivities, our modern-day version of the very real and very ancient Saint Nicholas, a man of deep faith and great joy as well who Himself worshipped and adored the Baby who was born in Bethlehem.

So why not celebrate the birth of Christ? Why not make it the biggest party of the year? Why not make it the “Hap-Happiest season of all”?

I was sold. Christmas could stay–and my kids would be much hap-happier for it, too.

I dove back into celebrating Christmas with full vigor, and at the same time took a closer look into the life of the real Saint Nicholas, a man who seemed almost irremovably intertwined with this Holy Day. I discovered that Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus were indeed one and the same, and that the Saint Nicholas who lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries after the birth of Christ was truly a devout follower of Christ himself.

As my wife and I read more and more about Nicholas’ fascinating story, we became enthralled with this believer who had already been capturing the hearts and imaginations of believers and nonbelievers alike throughout the centuries.

With so many books and movies that go to great lengths to tell you the “true” story of Santa Claus (and how his reindeer are really powered by everything from egg nog to Coca-Cola), I’ve found that there are very few stories that even come close to describing the actual person of who Saint Nicholas was, and in particular, what he thought about the Man for whom Christmas is named, Jesus Christ. I was surprised to learn that with all the historical documents that attest to Saint Nicholas’ faith in Christ, compelling tellings of those stories seem to have fallen by the wayside over the ages.

So with the encouragement and help of my sweet wife, Lana, we decided to bring the story of Saint Nicholas back to life for you, with a desire to help you recapture the essence of Christmas for yourself.

While some people, with good reason, may still go to great lengths to try to remove anything that might possibly hint of secularism from this holiest day of the year, it seems to me equally fitting to go to great lengths to try to restore Santa to his rightful place–not as the patron saint of shopping malls, but as a beacon of light that shines brightly on the One for whom this Holy Day is named.

It is with deep faith and great joy that I offer you this Christmas novella–a little story. I’ve enjoyed telling it and I hope you’ll enjoy hearing it. It just may be the most human telling of the story of Saint Nicholas you’ve ever heard.

Above all, I pray that God will use this story to rekindle your love, not only for this season of the year, but for the One who makes this season so bright.

May God bless you this Christmas and always!

In Christ’s love,
Eric Elder

P.S. I’ve divided this story into 7 parts and 40 chapters to make it easier to read. If you’d like, you can read a part a day for 7 days leading up to Christmas. Or if you’d like to use this book as a daily devotional, you can read a chapter a day for 40 days leading up to Christmas, counting the Prologue, Epilogue and Conclusion as separate chapters. If you start on November 15th, you’ll finish on Christmas Eve!

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric and Lana Elder

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

PART 1

PART 2

PART 3

PART 4

PART 5

PART 6

PART 7

PART 1

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric and Lana Elder

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PROLOGUE (Back to Table of Contents)

My name is Dimitri–Dimitri Alexander. But that’s not important. What’s important is that man over there, lying on his bed. He’s–well, I suppose there’s really no better way to describe him except to say–he’s a saint. Not just because of all the good he’s done, but because he was–as a saint always is–a Believer. He believed that there was Someone in life who was greater than he was, Someone who guided him, who helped him through every one of his days.

If you were to look at him closely, lying there on his bed, it might look to you as if he was dead. And in some sense, I guess you would be right. But the truth is, he’s more alive now than he has ever been.

My friends and I have come here today to spend his last day on earth with him. Just a few minutes ago we watched as he passed from this life to the next.

I should be crying, I know. Believe me, I have been–and I will be again. But for now, I can’t help but simply be grateful that he has finally made it to his new home, a home that he has been dreaming about for many years. A home where he can finally talk to God face to face, like I’m talking to you right now.

Oh, he was a saint all right. But to me, and to so many others, he was something even more. He was–how could I put it? An inspiration. A friend. A teacher. A helper. A giver. Oh, he loved to give and give and give some more, until it seemed he had nothing left to give at all. But then he’d reach down deep and find a little more. “There’s always something you can give,” as he would often say.

He always hoped, in some small way, that he could use his life to make a difference in the world. He wanted, above all, to help people. But with so many needs all around, what could he possibly do?

He was like a man on a beach surrounded by starfish that had been washed up onto the shore. He knew that they would die if they didn’t make it back into the water.

Not knowing how to save them all, the man on the beach did what he could. He reached down, picked one up, and tossed it back into the water. Then reached down again, picked up another, and did the same.

Someone once asked the man why he bothered at all–that with so many needs all around, how could he possibly make any difference. He’d just toss another starfish into the water and say, “It made a difference to that one.” Then he’d reach down and pick up another.

You see, to the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world.

In many ways, my friend was just like you and me. Each one of us has just one life to live. But if you live it right, one life is all you need. And if you live your life for God, well, you just might touch the whole world.

Did his life make any difference? I already know my answer, because I’m one of those that he reached down and picked up many, many years ago. But how about I tell you his story, and when I get to the end, I’ll let you decide if his life made a difference or not. And then maybe, by the time we’re finished, you’ll see that your life can make a difference, too.

Oh, by the way, I haven’t told you his name yet, this man who was such a great saint, such a great believer in the God who loved him, who created him, who sustained him and with whom he is now living forever.

His name is Nicholas–and this is his story.

CHAPTER 1 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas lived in an ideal world. At least that’s the way he saw it. As a nine-year-old boy, growing up on the northern coast of what he called the Great Sea–you might call it the Mediterranean–Nicholas couldn’t imagine a better life.

He would often walk through the streets with his father, acting as if they were on their way to somewhere in particular. But the real reason for their outing was to look for someone who was struggling to make ends meet, someone who needed a lift in their life. A simple hello often turned into the discovery of a need to be met. Nicholas and his father would pray, and if they could meet the need, they found a way to do it.

Nicholas couldn’t count the number of times his dad would sneak up behind someone afterwards and put some apples in their sack, or a small coin or two. As far as Nicholas knew, no one ever knew what his father had done, except to say that sometimes they heard people talking about the miracle of receiving exactly what they needed at just the right time, in some unexpected way.

Nicholas loved these walks with his father, just as he loved his time at home with his mother. They had shown the same love and generosity with him as they had shown to so many others.

His parents had somehow found a way to prosper, even in the turbulent times in which they lived. They were, in fact, quite wealthy. But whether their family was rich or poor seemed to make no difference to Nicholas. All he knew or cared about was that his parents loved him like no one else on earth. He was their only son, and their times together were simple and truly joyful.

Their richest times came at night, as they shared stories with each other that they had heard about a Man who was like no other Man they had ever known. A Man who lived on the other side of the Great Sea about 280 years earlier. His name was Jesus. Nicholas was enthralled with the stories of this Man who seemed to be so precious in the eyes of his parents. Jesus seemed both down-to-earth and larger-than-life, all at the same time. How could anyone be so humble, yet so noble? How could He be so poor that He was born in an animal stable, yet so generous that He could feed 5,000 people? How could He live His life so fully, yet die a death so cruelly? Jesus was, to Nicholas, an enigma, the most fascinating person about whom he’d ever heard. One day, Nicholas thought to himself, he hoped to visit this land on the other side of the sea–and walk where Jesus walked.

For all the love that Nicholas and his parents shared and which held them together, there was one thing that threatened to pull them apart. It was the one thing that seemed to be threatening many families in their country these days, irrespective of their wealth or poverty, their faith or lack of faith, their love for others or their lack of love.

Nicholas’ friends and neighbors called it the plague. His parents had mentioned it from time to time, but only in their prayers. They prayed for the families who were affected by the plague, asking God for healing when possible, and for strength of faith when not. Most of all, his parents prayed for Nicholas that regardless of what happened around him, he would always know how very much they loved him, and how very much God loved him.

Even though Nicholas was so young, he had seen enough of life to know that real threats existed in the world. Yet he also had been shielded from those threats, in a way, by the love of his parents and by their devout faith in God. As his father had learned over the years, and had many times reminded Nicholas, “In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him.” And Nicholas believed him. Up to this point, he’d had no real reason to doubt the words his father had spoken.

But it would be only a matter of months before Nicholas’ faith would be challenged and he would have to decide if he really believed those words for himselfthat in all things, God would truly work for the good of those who loved Him.

Tonight, however, he simply trusted the words of his father, listening to his parents’ prayers for him–and for those in his city–as he drifted off into a perfect sleep.

CHAPTER 2 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas woke to the sounds of birds out his window. The air was fresh, washed clean by the seaside mist in the early morning.

But the news this morning was less than idyllic. A friend of Nicholas’ family had contracted the sickness that they had only heard about from people in other cities. The boy was said to be near the point of death.

Nicholas’ father had heard the news first and had gone to pray for the boy. Returning home just as Nicholas awoke, his father shared the news with his wife and with Nicholas.

“We need to pray,” he said, with no hint of panic in his voice, but with an unmistakable urgency that caused all three of them to slip down to their knees.

Nicholas’ father began the prayer: “Father, You know the plans You have for this child. We trust You to carry them out. We pray for Your healing as we love this boy, but we know that You love him even more than we do. We trust that as we place him in Your hands this morning, You will work all things together for good, as You always do for those who love You.”

It was a prayer Nicholas had heard his father pray many times before, asking for what they believed was best in every situation, but trusting that God knew best in the end. It was the same type of prayer Nicholas had heard that Jesus had prayed the night before He died: “If You are willing,” Jesus prayed, “take this cup from Me. Yet not My will, but Yours be done.”

Nicholas never quite knew what to make of this prayer. Wouldn’t God always want what’s best for us? And how could someone’s death ever be a good thing? Yet his father prayed that prayer so often, and with such sincerity of heart, that Nicholas was confident that it was the right thing to pray. But how God could answer any other way than healing the boy–and still work it out for good–remained a mystery.

After Nicholas’ mother had added her own words to the prayer, and Nicholas himself had joined in, his father concluded with thanks to God for listening–and for already answering their prayers.

As they stood, the news came to their door, as if in direct answer to what they had just prayed. But it wasn’t the answer they were hoping for. The boy had died.

Nicholas’ mother began to weep quietly, but not holding back on her tears. She wept as she felt the loss of another mother, feeling the loss as if it were her own son who had died.

Nicholas’ father took hold of her hand and pulled Nicholas close, saying a quiet prayer for the family of the boy who had died, and adding another prayer for his own family. He gave his wife and son one more final squeeze, then walked out the door to return to the other boy’s home.

CHAPTER 3 (Back to Table of Contents)

The boy’s death had a sobering effect on the whole city. The people had known the boy, of course, and were sad for the family.

But his death was more sobering because it wasn’t an isolated event. The people had heard stories of how the sickness had been spreading through the cities around them, taking the lives of not just one or two people here and there, but entire familiesentire neighborhoods. The death of this boy seemed to indicate that the plague had now arrived in their city, too.

No one knew how to stop it. All they could do was pray. And pray they did.

As the sickness began to spread, Nicholas’ parents would visit the homes of those who lay dying. While his parents’ money was powerless to offer relief to the families, their prayers brought a peace that no amount of money could buy.

As always, Nicholas’ father would pray that death would pass them over, as it had passed over the Israelites in Egypt when the plague of death overtook the lives of the firstborn of every family that wasn’t willing to honor God. But this sickness was different. It made no distinction between believer or unbeliever, firstborn or last born, or any other apparent factor. This sickness seemed to know no bounds, and seemed unstoppable by any means.

Yet Nicholas watched as his father prayed in faith nonetheless, believing that God could stop the plague at any moment, at any household, and trusting God to work it all out for good, even if their lives, too, were seemingly cut short.

These latter prayers were what people clung to the most. More than anything else, these words gave them hope–hope that their lives were not lived in vain, hope that their deaths were not going unnoticed by the God who created them.

A visit by Nicholas’ father and mother spoke volumes to those who were facing unbearable pain, for as the plague spread, fewer and fewer people had been willing to leave their own homes, let alone visit the homes where the sickness had struck. The prayers of Nicholas’ father, and the tears of his mother, gave the families the strength they needed to face whatever came their way.

Nicholas watched in wonder as his parents dispensed their gifts of mercy during the day, then returned home each night physically spent, but spiritually strengthened. It made him wonder how they got their strength for each day. But it also made him wonder how long their own family could remain untouched by this plague.

When Nicholas finally found the courage to voice this question out loud, a question that seemed to be close to all of their hearts, his father simply answered that they had only two choices: to live in fear, or to live in love, and to follow the example of the One in whom they had entrusted their lives. They chose to live in love, doing for others what they would want others to do for them.

So every morning Nicholas’ father and mother would wake up and pray, asking their Lord what He would have them do. Then, pushing aside any fears they might have had, they put their trust in God, spending the day serving others as if they were serving Christ Himself.

While his father’s response didn’t answer the immediate question on Nicholas’ heart– which was how much longer it might be till the sickness visited their own home–it seemed to answer a question that went much deeper. It answered the question of whether or not God was aware of all that was going on, and if He was, whether or not He cared enough to do anything about it.

By the way that God seemed to be directing his parents each day, Nicholas gained a peace of mind that God was indeed fully aware of all that was going on in the lives of every person in his city of Pataraand that God did indeed care. God cared enough to send Nicholas’ parents to those who needed to hear a word from Him, who needed a touch from His hands, who needed a touch from God not just in their flesh, but in their spirits as well.

It seemed to Nicholas to be a more glorious answer to his question than he could have imagined. His worry about when the sickness might visit their own home dissipated as he went to sleep that night. Instead, he prayed that God would use his own hands and words–Nicholas’ hands and words–as if they were God’s very own, reaching out to express God’s love for His people.

CHAPTER 4 (Back to Table of Contents)

In the coming days, Nicholas found himself wanting to help his father and mother more and more as they delivered God’s mercy to those around them.

They worked together to bring food, comfort and love to each family touched by the plague. Some days it was as simple as stopping by to let a mother know she wasn’t alone. Others days it was bringing food or drink to an entire family who had taken ill. And still other days it was preparing a place in the hills around their city where they carefully laid the bodies of those who had succumbed to the sickness and whose spirits had passed from this life to the next.

Each day Nicholas’ heart grew more and more aware of the temporal nature of life on earth, and more and more in tune with the eternal nature of the life that is unseen. It seemed to Nicholas that the line between the two worlds was becoming less and less distinct. What he had once thought of as solid and reallike rocks and trees, or hands and feetsoon took on a more ethereal nature. And those things that were more difficult for him to touch beforelike faith and hope, love and peacebegan to become more solid and real.

It was as if his world was turning both upside down and inside out at the same time, not with a gut-wrenching twisting, but as if his eyes themselves were being re-calibrated, adjusting better to see with more clarity what was really going onfocusing more acutely on what really mattered in life. Even surrounded by so much sickness and death, Nicholas felt himself coming alive more fully than he’d ever felt before.

His father tried to describe what Nicholas was feeling by using words that he’d heard Jesus had said, that whoever tried to hold onto this life too tightly would lose it, but whoever was willing to let go of this life, would find true life. By learning how to love others without being constrained by fear, being propelled forward by love instead, Nicholas was starting to experience how it felt to truly live.

Whether that feeling could sustain him through what lay ahead, he didn’t know. But what he did know was that for now, more than anything else, he wanted to live each day to the fullest. He wanted to wake up each day looking for how God could use him, then do whatever God was willing to give him to do. To do anything less would be to shortchange himself from living the life God had given him to liveand to shortchange God from the work God wanted to get done.

As the days passed, Nicholas came to know what his father and mother already knew: that no one knew how many more days they had left in this world. His family no longer saw themselves as human beings having a temporary spiritual experience, but as spiritual beings, having a temporary human experience. With eyes of faith, they were able to look into whatever lay ahead of them without the fear that gripped so many of the others around them.

CHAPTER 5 (Back to Table of Contents)

When Nicholas awoke one day to the sound of his mother coughing, time seemed to stand still.

For all the preparation his parentsand his own faithhad given him, it still caught him off guard to think that the sickness might have finally crossed over the threshold of their own home.

He thought that maybe God would spare them for all the kindness they had shown to others during the previous few months. But his father had cautioned him against such thinking, reminding him that for all the good that Jesus had done in His lifefor all the healing that He had brought to othersthere still came a time when He, too, had to face suffering and death. It didn’t mean that God didn’t love Jesus, or wasn’t concerned for Him, or hadn’t seen all the good He had done in His life. And it didn’t mean that Jesus remained indifferent to what was about to take place either. Jesus even told His disciples that His heart was deeply troubled by what He was about to go through, but that didn’t mean He shrank back from what lay ahead of Him. No, He said, it was for this very hour that He had come. Greater love, He told His disciples, had no one than this: that they lay down their lives for their friends.

Nicholas’ mother coughed again, and time slowly began to move again for Nicholas. He stood to his feet. As he approached his mother, she hesitated for a moment. It was as if she was torn between wanting him to stand stillnot to come one step closer to the sickness that had now reached her bodyor to get up on her feet, too, and throw her arms around him, assuring him that everything would be all right. But a moment later, Nicholas had made her decision unnecessary, for he was already in her arms, holding on as tight as he could as they both broke down in tears. As Nicholas was learning, having faith doesn’t mean you can’t cry. It just means that you can trust God, even with your tears.

Nicholas’ father had already shed some of his own tears that morning. He had gone outside before the sunrise, this time not to visit the homes of others, but to pray. For him, the place where he always returned when he needed to be alone with God was to the fresh air by the sea, not far from their home. While he knew he could pray anywhere, at any time, it was by the sea that he felt closest to God. The sound of the waves, rhythmically washing up on the shore, seemed to have a calming, mesmerizing effect on him.

He had arrived in time to watch the sunrise off to his left, looking down the shoreline of the Great Sea. How many sunrises had he seen from that very spot? And how many more would he have left to see? He turned his head and coughed, letting the question roll back out to sea with the next receding wave. The sickness had come upon him as well.

This wasn’t the first time he had asked himself how many days he had left to live. The difference this time was that in the past, he had always asked it hypothetically. He would come to this spot whenever he had an important decision to make, a decision that required he think beyond the short term. He would come here when he needed to look into eternity, taking into account the brevity of life. Here, at the edge of the sea, it was as if he could grasp both the brevity of life and the eternity of heaven at the same time.

The daily rising of the sun and the swelling, cresting and breaking of the waves on the shore reminded him that God was still in control, that His world would carry onwith or without himjust as it had since God had first spoken the water and earth into existence, and just as it would until the day God would choose for its end, to make way for the new heaven and the new earth. In light of eternity, the lifespan of the earth seemed incredibly short, and the lifespan of man even shorter still. In that short span of life, he knew that he had to make the most of each day, not just living for himself, and not even just living for others, but ultimately living for the God who had given him life. If God, the Creator of all things, had seen fit to breathe into him the breath of life, then as long as he could still take a breath, he wanted to make the most of it.

Coughing again, Nicholas’ father remembered that this was no mere intellectual exercise to help him come to grips with a difficult decision. This time–as he looked out at the sunrise once more, and at one more wave rolling inhe realized that this was the final test of everything that he had believed up until this point.

Some of life’s tests he had passed with flying colors. Others he had failed when fear or doubt had taken over. But this was a test he knew he wanted to pass more than any other.

He closed his eyes and asked for strength for another day. He let the sun warm his face, and he gently opened the palms of his hands to feel the breeze as it lifted up along the shore and floated over his body. He opened his eyes and looked one more time at the sea.

Then he turned and walked toward home, where he would soon join his precious wife and his beloved son in a long, tearful embrace.

PART 2

Listen to Part 2 here (28 minutes, including Chapters 6-11)

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric and Lana Elder

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

CHAPTER 6 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas stood alone. He was on the same stretch of beach where his father had stood just ten years earlier, looking out at the sunrise and the waves on the seashore.

Nicholas’ father never made it out to look at the Great Sea again, having finally succumbed to the sickness himself. Nicholas’ mother passed away first, within two weeks of the first signs of illness. His father lasted another three days after that, as if holding on as long as he could to make sure his wife passed as peacefully as possible from this life to the next, and making sure Nicholas was as ready as possible to take the next steps in his own life.

Nicholas’ father didn’t shy away from tears, but he didn’t want them wasted on wrongful emotions either. “Don’t cry because it’s over,” his father had said to both his wife and his son. “Smile because it was beautiful.”

There was a time and place for anger and disappointment, but this wasn’t the time for either. If given the chance to do it all over again, his parents would have chosen to do exactly what they did. It was not foolishness, they said, to be willing to risk their lives for the sake of others, especially when there were no guarantees that they would have survived anyway.

As it turned out, the plague ended up taking the lives of almost a third of the people in Patara before it finally ran its course. The sickness seemed to have a mind of its own, affecting those who tried to shield themselves from it as well as those who, like his parents, had ventured out into the midst of it.

After the death of his parents, Nicholas felt a renewed sense of urgency to pick up where they had left off, visiting those who were sick and comforting the families of those who had died.

Then, almost as suddenly as it came to their city, the plague left. Nicholas had spent most of the next few weeks sleeping, trying to recover from the long daysand even longer nightsof ministering to those who were affected. When he was awake, he spent his time trying to process his own feelings and emotions in light of the loss of the family he loved. In so many ways, his parents were his life. His life was so intertwined with theirs, and having them taken so suddenly from him, he hardly knew what to do without them. He went to live with his uncle, a priest who lived in the monastery in Patara, until he was ready to venture out further into the world on his own. Now that time had come, and it was time for Nicholas to make his decision.

Unlike many others who had been orphaned by the plague, Nicholas had been left with a sizable inheritance. The question on his heart wasn’t what he would do to make a living, but what he would do to make a life. Through all that he had experienced, and now recognizing the brevity of life for himself, Nicholas now knew why his father had come so often to this shore to pray. Now it was Nicholas’ turn to consider his own future in light of eternity.

What should I do? Where should I go? How should I spend the rest of my days? The questions could have overwhelmed him, except that his father had prepared him well for moments like these, too.

His father, always a student of the writings of Scripture and of the life of Christ, had told him that Jesus taught that we needn’t worry so much about the trouble down the road as just the trouble for that day. Each day has enough trouble of its own, Jesus said.

As Nicholas thought about this, his burden lifted. He didn’t have to figure out what he was going to do with the rest of his life just yet. He only had to decide on his next step.

He had enough money to travel the length of the entire world back and forth three times and still have enough to live on for years to come. But that wasn’t really what he wanted to do. He had never had a desire to live wildly or lavishly, for the life he knew up to this point already gave him tremendous satisfaction. But there was one place he had always wanted to see with his own eyes.

As he looked out across the sea, to the south and to the west, he knew that somewhere in between lay the place he most wanted to visita land that seemed more precious in his mind than any other. It was the land where Jesus had lived, the land where He had walked and taught, the land where He was born and died, and the land where so many of the stories of His lifeand almost the entirety of Scripture itselfhad taken place.

Nicholas knew that some decisions in life were made only through the sweat and agony of prayer, trying desperately to decide between two seemingly good, but mutually exclusive paths. But this decision was not one of them. This was one of those decisions that, by the nature of the circumstances, was utterly simple to make. Apart from his uncle, there was little more to keep him in Patara, and nothing to stop him from following the desire that had been on his heart for so long.

He was glad his father had shown him this spot, and he was glad that he had come to it again today. He knew exactly what he was going to do next. His decision was as clear as the water in front of him.

CHAPTER 7 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas’ arrival on the far shores of the Great Sea came sooner than he could have imagined. For so long he had wondered what it would be like to walk where Jesus walked, and now, at age 19, he was finally there.

Finding a boat to get there had been no problem, for his hometown of Patara was one of the main stopovers for ships traveling from Egypt to Rome, carrying people and cargo alike. Booking passage was as simple as showing that you had the money to pay, which Nicholas did.

But now that he had arrived, where would he go first? He wanted to see everything at once, but that was impossible. A tug at his sleeve provided the answer.

“You a Christian?” the small voice asked.

Nicholas looked down to see a boy not more than ten looking up at him. Two other children giggled nearby. To ask this question so directly, when it was dangerous in general to do so, showed that the boy was either a sincere follower of Christ looking for a fellow believer, or it showed that he had ulterior motives in mind. From the giggles of his little friends nearby, a boy and a girl just a bit younger than the one who had spoken, Nicholas knew it was probably the latter.

“You a Christian?” the boy asked again. “I show you holy places?”

Ah, that’s it, thought Nicholas. Enough pilgrims had obviously come here over the years that even the youngest inhabitants knew that pilgrims would need a guide once they arrived. Looking over the three children again, Nicholas felt they would suit him just fine. Nicholas had a trusting heart, and while he wasn’t naive enough to think that trouble wouldn’t find him here, he also trusted that the same God who had led him here would also provide the help he needed once he arrived. Even if these children were doing it just for the money, that was all right with Nicholas. Money he had. A map he didn’t. He would gladly hire them to be his living maps to the holy places.

“Yes, and yes,” Nicholas answered. “Yes, I am indeed a Christian. And if you would like to take me, then yes, I would be very interested to see the holy places. I would love for your friends to come along with us, too. That way, if we meet any trouble, they can defend us all!”

The boy’s mouth dropped open and his friends giggled again. It wasn’t the answer the boy had expected at all, at least not so fast and not without a great deal of pestering on his part. Pilgrims who arrived were usually much more skeptical when they stepped off their boats, shooing away anyone who approached themat least until they got their land legs back and their bearings straight. But the boy quickly recovered from his shock and immediately extended his right hand in front of him, palm upraised, with a slight bow of his head. It gave Nicholas the subtle impression as if to say that the boy was at Nicholas’ serviceand the not-so-subtle impression that the boy was ready for something to be deposited in his open hand. Nicholas, seeing another opportunity to throw the boy off guard, happily obliged.

He gently placed three of his smallest, but shiniest coins into the boy’s upraised palm and said, “My name is Nicholas. And I can see you’re a wise man. Now, if you’re able to keep your hand open even after I’ve set these coins in it, you’ll be even wiser still. For he who clenches his fist tightly around what he has received will find it hard to receive more. But he who opens his hand freely to heavenfreely giving in the same way that he has freely receivedwill find that his Father in heaven will usually not hold back in giving him more.”

Nicholas motioned with his hand that he intended for the boy to share what he had received with his friends, who had come closer at the appearance of the coins. The boy obviously was the spokesman for all three, but still he faltered for a moment as to what to do. This man was so different from anyone else the boy had ever approached. With others, the boy was always trying, usually without success, to coax even one such coin from their pockets, but here he had been given three in his very first attempt! The fact that the coins weren’t given grudgingly, but happily, did indeed throw him off balance. He had never heard such a thought like that of keeping his hands open to give and receive. His instinct would have been to instantly clench his fist tightly around the coins, not letting go until he got to the safest place he could find, and only then could he carefully inspect them and let their glimmers shine in his eyes. Yet he stood stock still, with his hand still outstretched and his palm facing upward. Almost against his own self-will, he found himself turning slightly and extending his hand to his friends.

Seizing the moment, the two others each quickly plucked a coin from his hand. Within an instant of realizing that they, too, were about to clench their fists around their newly acquired treasure, they slowly opened their fingers as well, looking up at the newly arrived pilgrim with a sense of bewilderment. They were bewildered not just that he had given them the coins, but that they were still standing there with their palms open, surprising even themselves that they were willing to follow this man’s peculiar advice.

The sight of it all made Nicholas burst out in a gracious laugh. He was delighted by their response and he quickly deposited two more of his smallest coins into each of their hands, now tripling their astonishment. It wasn’t the amount of the gifts that had astonished them, for they had seen bigger tips from wealthier pilgrims, but it was the generous and cheerful spirit that accompanied the gifts that gave them such a surprise.

The whole incident took place in less than a minute, but it set Nicholas and his new friends into such a state that each of them looked forward to the journey ahead.

“Now, you’d better close your hands again, because a wise manor woman–“ he nodded to the little girl, “also takes care of that which they have been given so that it doesn’t get lost or stolen.”

Then, turning to walk toward the city, Nicholas said, “How about you let me get some rest tonight, and then, first thing in the morning, you can start showing me those holy places?”

While holy places abounded in this holy land, in the magical moments that had just transpired, it seemed to the three childrenand even to Nicholas himself–that they had just stepped foot on their first.

CHAPTER 8 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas woke with the sun the next morning. He had asked the children to meet him at the inn shortly after sunrise. His heart skipped a beat with excitement about the day ahead. Within a few minutes, he heard their knock–and their unmistakable giggles–at the door.

He found out that their names were Dimitri, Samuel and Ruthie. They were, to use the common term, “alumni,” children whose parents had left them at birth to fend for themselves. Orphans like these dotted the streets throughout the Roman Empire, byproducts of people who indulged their passions wherever and with whomever they wanted, with little thought for the outcome of their actions.

While Dimitri could have wallowed in self-pity for his situation, he didn’t. He realized early on that it didn’t help to get frustrated and angry about his circumstances. So he became an entrepreneur.

He began looking for ways he could help people do whatever they needed, especially those things which others couldn’t do, or wouldn’t do, for themselves. He wasn’t often rewarded for his efforts, but when he was, it was all worth it.

He wasn’t motivated by religion, for he wasn’t religious himself, and he wasn’t motivated by greed, for he never did anything that didn’t seem right if it were just for the money, as greedy people who only care about money often do. He simply believed that if he did something that other people valued, and if he did it good enough and long enough, then somehow he would make it in life. Some people, like Dimitri, stumble onto godly wisdom without even realizing it.

Samuel and Ruthie, on the other hand, were just along for the ride. Like bees drawn to honey, Samuel and Ruthie were drawn to Dimitri, as often happens when people find someone who is trying to do what’s right. Samuel was eight, and like Dimitri, wasn’t religious himself, but had chosen his own name when he heard someone tell the story of another little boy named Samuel who, when very young, had been given away by his parents to be raised by a priest. Samuel, the present-day one, loved to hear about all that the long-ago Samuel had done, even though the other one had lived over 1,000 years before. This new Samuel didn’t know if the stories about the old Samuel were true, but at the time he chose his name, he didn’t particularly care. It was only in the past few months, as he had been traveling to the holy sites with Dimitri, that he had begun to wonder if perhaps the stories really were true.

Now Ruthie, even though she was only seven, was as sharp as a tack. She always remembered people’s names and dates, what happened when and who did what to whom. Giggling was her trademark, but little though she was, her mind was eager to learn and she remembered everything she saw and everything she was taught. Questions filled her mind, and naturally spilled right out of her mouth.

Dimitri didn’t mind these little tag-alongs, for although it might have been easier for him to do what he did by himself, he also knew of the dangers of the streets and felt compelled to help these two like an older brother might help his younger siblings. And to be completely honest, he didn’t have anyone else to call family, so finding these two a few years earlier had filled a part of his heart in a way that he couldn’t describe, but somehow made him feel better.

Nicholas took in the sight of all three beaming faces at his door. “Where to first?” asked Dimitri.

“Let’s start at the beginning,” said Nicholas, “the place where Jesus was born.” And with that they began the three-day walk from the coast of Joppa to the hills of Bethlehem.

CHAPTER 9 (Back to Table of Contents)

After two days of walking and sleeping on hillsides, Nicholas and his new friends had just a half day left before they reached Bethlehem. For Nicholas, his excitement was building with every hill they passed, as he was getting closer and closer to the holy place he most wanted to see, the birthplace of Jesus.

“Why do you think He did it?” asked Dimitri. “I mean, why would Jesus want to come hereto earth? If I were already in heaven, I think I’d want to stay there.”

Even though Dimitri was supposed to be the guide, he didn’t mind asking as many questions as he could, especially when he was guiding someone like Nicholas, which didn’t happen very often.

Nicholas didn’t mind his asking, either, as Nicholas had done the same thing back home. His parents belonged to a community of believers that had been started about 250 years earlier by the Apostle Paul himself when Paul had visited their neighboring city of Myra on one of his missionary journeys, telling everyone who would listen about Jesus. Paul had lived at the same time as Jesus, although Paul didn’t become a believer himself until after Jesus died and rose again from the dead. Paul’s stories were always remarkable.

Nicholas got to hear all of the stories that Paul had told while he was in Myra, as they were written down and repeated by so many others over the years.

As a child, Nicholas thought that anything that happened 250 years ago sounded like ancient history. But as he started to get a little older, and now that his parents had passed away, too, it didn’t seem that long ago at all. The stories that Nicholas heard were the same stories his father and his grandfather and his great grandfather, back to six or seven generations, had heard, some for the very first time from the Apostle Paul in person. Nicholas loved to hear them over and over, and he asked many of the same questions that Dimitri was now asking himlike why would Jesus leave heaven to come down to earth in person.

“The simple answer is because He loved us,” said Nicholas. “But that alone probably doesn’t answer the question you’re really asking, because God has always loved us. The reason Jesus came to earth was, well, because there are some things that need to be done in person.”

Nicholas went on to explain the gospel–the good news–to the children of how Jesus came to pay the ultimate price with His life for anything we had ever done wrong, making a way for us to come back to God with a clean heart, plus live with Him in heaven forever.

Throughout the story, the children stared at Nicholas with rapt attention. Although they had been to Bethlehem many times before and had often taken people to the cave that was carved into the hillside where it was said that Jesus was born, they had never pictured it in their minds quite like this before. They had never understood the motivations behind why God did what He did. And they had never really considered that the stories they heard about Jesus being God in the flesh were true. How could He be?

Yet hearing Nicholas’ explanation made so much sense to them, that they wondered why they had never considered it as true before. In those moments, their hearts and minds were finally opened to at least the possibility that it was true. And that open door turned out to be the turning point for each of them in their lives, just as it had been for Nicholas when he first heard the Truth. God really did love them, and God had demonstrated that love for them by coming to the earth to save them from their certain self-destruction.

For Nicholas, when he first heard about the love of the Father for him, the idea was fairly familiar to him because he had already had a good glimpse of what the love of a father looked like from the love of his own father. But to Dimitri, Samuel and Ruthie, who had never had a father, much less one like Nicholas had just described, it was simultaneously one of the most distantly incomprehensible, yet wonderfully alluring descriptions of love they had ever heard.

As they made their way through the hills toward Bethlehem, they began to skip ahead as fast as their hearts were already skipping, knowing that they would soon see again the place where God had, as a Man, first touched earth less than 300 years earlier. They would soon be stepping onto ground that was indeed holy.

CHAPTER 10 (Back to Table of Contents)

It was evening when they finally arrived at their destination. Dimitri led them through the city of Bethlehem to the spot where generations of pilgrims had already come to see the place where Jesus was born: a small cave cut into the hillside where animals could easily have been corralled so they wouldn’t wander off.

There were no signs to mark the spot, no monuments or buildings to indicate that you were now standing on the very spot where the God of the universe had arrived as a child. It was still dangerous anywhere in the Roman Empire to tell others you were a Christian, even though the laws against it were only sporadically enforced.

But that didn’t stop those who truly followed Christ from continuing to honor the One whom they served as their King. Although Jesus taught that His followers were to still respect their earthly rulers, if forced to choose between worshipping Christ or worshipping Caesar, both the Christians and Caesar knew who the Christians would worship. So the standoff continued.

The only indication that this was indeed a holy site was the well-worn path up the hill that made its way into and out of the cave. Tens of thousands of pilgrims had already made their way to this spot during the past 250 years. It was well known to those who lived in Bethlehem, for it was the same spot that had been shown to pilgrims from one generation to the next, going back to the days of Christ.

As Dimitri led the three others along the path to the cave, Nicholas laughed, a bit to himself, and a bit out loud. The others turned to see what had made him burst out so suddenly. He had even surprised himself! Here he was at the one holy site he most wanted to see, and he was laughing.

Nicholas said, “I was just thinking of the wise men who came to Bethlehem to see Jesus. They probably came up this very hill. How regal they must have looked, riding on their camels and bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. For a moment I pictured myself as one of those kings, riding on a camel myself. Then I stepped in some sheep dung by the side of the road. The smell brought me back in an instant to the reality that I’m hardly royalty at all!”

“Yes,” said Ruthie, “but didn’t you tell us that the angels spoke to the shepherds first, and that they were the first ones to go and see the baby? So smelling a little like sheep dung may not make you like the kings, but it does make you like those who God brought to the manger first!”

“Well said, Ruthie,” said Nicholas. “You’re absolutely right.”

Ruthie smiled at her insight, and then her face produced another thoughtful look. “But maybe we should still bring a gift with us, like the wise men did?” The thought seemed to overtake her, as if she was truly concerned that they had nothing to give to the King. He wasn’t there anymore to receive their gifts, of course, but still she had been captivated by the stories about Jesus that Nicholas had been telling them along the road. She thought that she should at least bring Him some kind of gift.

“Look!” she said, pointing to a spot on the hill a short distance away. She left the path and within a few minutes had returned with four small, delicate golden flowers, one for each of them. “They look just like gold to me!”

She smiled from ear to ear now, giving each one of them a gift to bring to Jesus. Nicholas smiled as well. There’s always something you can give, he thought to himself. Whether it’s gold from a mine or gold from a flower, we only bring to God that which is already His anyway, don’t we?

So with their gifts in hand, they reached the entrance to the caveand stepped inside.

CHAPTER 11 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nothing could have prepared Nicholas for the strong emotion that overtook him as he entered the cave.

On the ground in front of him was a makeshift wooden manger, a feeding trough for animals probably very similar to the one in which Jesus had been laid the night of His birth. It had apparently been placed in the cave as a simple reminder of what had taken place there. But the effect on Nicholas was profound.

One moment he had been laughing at himself and watching Ruthie pick flowers on the hillside and the next moment, upon seeing the manger, he found himself on his knees, weeping uncontrollably at the thought of what had taken place on this very spot.

He thought about everything he had ever heard about Jesusabout how He had healed the sick, walked on water and raised the dead. He thought about the words Jesus had spokenwords that echoed with the weight of authority as He was the Author of life itself. He thought about his own parents who had put their lives on the line to serve this Man called Jesus, who had died for him just as He had died for them, giving up their very lives for those they loved.

The thoughts flooded his mind so fully that Nicholas couldn’t help sobbing with deep, heartfelt tears. They came from within his very soul. Somewhere else deep inside him, Nicholas felt stirred like he had never felt in his life. It was a sensation that called for some kind of response, some kind of action. It was a feeling so different from anything else he had ever experienced, yet it was unmistakably clear that there was a step he was now supposed to take, as if a door were opening before him and he knew he was supposed to walk through it. But how?

As if in answer to his question, Nicholas remembered the golden flower in his hand. He knew exactly what he was supposed to do, and he wanted more than anything to do it.

He took the flower and laid it gently on the ground in front of the wooden manger. The golden flower wasn’t just a flower anymore. It was a symbol of his very life, offered up now in service to his King.

Nicholas knelt there for several minutes, engulfed in this experience that he knew, even in the midst of it, would affect him for the rest of his life. He was oblivious to anything else that was going on around him. All he knew was that he wanted to serve this King, this Man who was clearly a man in every sense of the word, yet was clearly one and the same with God as well, the very essence of God Himself.

As if slowly waking from a dream, Nicholas began to become aware of his surroundings again. He noticed Dimitri and Samuel on his left and Ruthie on his right, also on their knees. Having watched Nicholas slip down to his knees, they had followed suit. Now they looked alternately, back and forth between him and the manger in front of him.

The waves of emotion that had washed over Nicholas were now washing over them as well. They couldn’t help but imagine what he was experiencing, knowing how devoted he was to Jesus and what it had willingly cost Nicholas’ parents to follow Him. Each of them, in their own way, began to experience for themselves what such love and devotion must feel like.

Having watched Nicholas place his flower in front of the manger, they found themselves wanting to do the same. If Jesus meant so much to Nicholas, then certainly they wanted to follow Jesus as well. They had never in their entire lives experienced the kind of love that Nicholas had shown them in the past three days. Yet somehow they knew that the love that Nicholas had for them didn’t originate with Nicholas alone, but from the God whom Nicholas served. If this was the kind of effect that Jesus had on His followers, then they wanted to follow Jesus, too.

Any doubts that Nicholas had had about his faith prior to that day were all washed away in those timeless moments. Nicholas had become, in the truest sense of the word, a Believer.

And from those very first moments of putting his faith and trust fully in Jesus, he was already inspiring others to do the same.

PART 3

Listen to Part 3 here (27-1/2 minutes, including Chapters 12-17)

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric and Lana Elder

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

CHAPTER 12 (Back to Table of Contents)

Once again, Nicholas was standing on a beach, alone. This time, however, it was on the shores of the Holy Land, looking back across the Great Sea towards his home.

In the months following his visit to Bethlehem, Nicholas, along with his young guide and bodyguards, had searched for every holy place that they could find that related to Jesus. They had retraced Jesus’ steps from His boyhood village in Nazareth to the fishing town of Capernaum, where Jesus had spent most of His adult years.

They had waded into the Jordan River where Jesus had been baptized and they swam in the Sea of Galilee where He had walked on the water and calmed the storm.

They had visited the hillside where Jesus had taught about the kingdom of heaven, and they had marveled at the spot where He had multiplied the five loaves of bread and two fish to feed a crowd of over 5,000 people.

While it was in Bethlehem that Nicholas was filled with wonder and awe, it was in Jerusalem where he was filled with mission and purpose. Walking through the streets where Jesus had carried His cross to His own execution, Nicholas felt the weight on his shoulders as if he were carrying a cross as well. Then seeing the hill where Jesus had died, and the empty tomb nearby where Jesus had risen from the dead, Nicholas felt the weight on his shoulders lifting off, as Jesus must have felt when He emerged from the tomb in which He had been sealed.

It was in that moment that Nicholas knew what his mission and purpose in life would be: to point others to the One who would lift their burdens off as well. He wanted to show them that they no longer had to carry the burdens of their sin, pain, sickness and need all alone. He wanted to show them that they could cast all their cares on Jesus, knowing that Jesus cared for them. “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened,” Jesus had said, “and I will give you rest.”

The stories Nicholas had heard as a child were no longer vague and distant images of things that might have been. They were stories that had taken on new life for him, stories that were now three dimensional and in living color. It wasn’t just the fact that he was seeing these places with his own eyes. Others had done that, and some were even living there in the land themselves, but they had still never felt what Nicholas was feeling. What made the difference for Nicholas was that he was seeing these stories through the eyes of faith, through the eyes of a Believer, as one who now truly believed all that had taken place.

As his adventures of traveling to each of the holy sites came to an end, Nicholas returned to the spot where he had first felt the presence of God so strongly: to Bethlehem. He felt that in order to prepare himself better for his new calling in life, he should spend as much time as he could living and learning in this special land. While exploring the city of Bethlehem and its surroundings, he found another cave nearby, in the city of Beit Jala, that was similar to the cave in which Jesus had been born. He took up residence there in the cave, planning to spend as much time as he could living and learning how to live in this land where His Savior had lived.

Dimitri, Samuel and Ruthie had gained a new sense of mission and purpose for their lives as well. As much as they wanted to stay with Nicholas, they felt even more compelled to continue their important work of bringing more people to see these holy places. It was no longer just a way for them to provide a living for themselves, but they found it to be a holy calling, a calling to help others experience what they had experienced.

It had been four full years now since Nicholas had first arrived on this side of the Sea. During that time, he often saw his young friends as they brought more and more pilgrims to see what they had shown to Nicholas. In those few short years, he watched each of them grow up “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men,” just as Jesus had done in His youth in Nazareth.

Nicholas would have been very happy to stay here even longer, but the same Spirit of God that had drawn him to come was now drawing him back home. He knew that he couldn’t stay on this mountaintop forever. There were people who needed him, and a life that was waiting for him back home, back in the province of Lycia. What that life held for him, he wasn’t sure. With his parents gone, there was little to pull him back home, but it was simply the Spirit of God Himself, propelling him forward on the next leg of his journey.

Making arrangements for a ship home was harder than it was to find a ship to come here, for the calm seas of summer were nearing their end and the first storms of winter were fast approaching. But Nicholas was convinced that this was the time, and he knew that if he waited any longer, he might not make it home again until spring–and the Spirit’s pull was too strong for that kind of delay.

So when he heard that a ship was expected to arrive any day now, one of the last of the season to sail through here on its way from Alexandria to Rome, he quickly arranged for passage. The ship was to arrive the next morning, and he knew he couldn’t miss it.

He had sent word, through a shopkeeper, to try to find his three best friends to let them know that he would be sailing in the morning. But as the night sky closed in, he had still not heard a word from them.

So he stood there on the beach alone, contemplating all that had taken place and all that had changed in his life since coming to the Holy Land–and all that was about to change as he left it. The thoughts filled him with excitement, anticipation and, to be honest, just a little bit of fear.

CHAPTER 13 (Back to Table of Contents)

Although Nicholas’ ship arrived the following morning just as expected, the children didn’t.

Later that afternoon, when the time came for him to board and the three still hadn’t shown up, Nicholas sadly resigned himself to the possibility that they just might miss each other entirely. He had started walking toward the ship when he felt a familiar tug at his sleeve.

“You a Christian?” came the voice once again, but this time with more depth as about four years were added to his life. It was Dimitri, of course. Nicholas turned on the spot and smiled his broadest smile.

“Am I a Christian? Without a doubt!” he said as he saw all three of them offering smiles to him in return. “And you?” he added, speaking to all three of them at once.

“Without a doubt!” they replied, almost in unison. It was the way they had spoken about their faith ever since their shared experience in Bethlehem, an experience when their doubts about God had faded away.

As Nicholas tried to take in all three of their faces just one more time, he wondered which was more difficult: to leave this precious land, or to leave these three precious youth whom he had met there. They all knew that God had called them together for a purpose, and they all trusted that God must now be calling them apart for another purpose, too, just as Nicholas had previously felt he was to move to Bethlehem and they were to continue their work taking pilgrims from city to city.

But just because they knew what God’s will was, it didn’t mean it was always easy to follow it. As Nicholas had often reminded them, tears were one of the strongest signs of love in the world. Without tears at the loss of those things that matter most, it would be hard to tell if those things really mattered at all.

A lack of tears wouldn’t be a problem today. Once again, Nicholas asked them all to hold out their right hands in front of them. As he reached into his pocket to find three of his largest coins to place into each of their outstretched hands, he found he wasn’t fast enough. Within an instant, all three children had wrapped their arms completely around Nicholas’ neck, his back and his waist, depending on their height. They all held on as tightly as possible, and as long as possible, before one of the ship’s crewmen signaled to Nicholas that the time had come.

As Nicholas gave each of them one last squeeze, he secretly slipped a coin into each of their pockets. Throughout their time together, Nicholas’ gifts had helped the children immeasurably. But it wasn’t Nicholas’ presents that blessed them so much as it was his presence–his willingness to spend so much time with them. Still, Nicholas wanted to give them a final blessing that they could discover later when he was gone, as he often did his best giving in secret.

Nicholas wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to cry at the thought of this final gift to them, so he did a little of both. Under his breath, he also offered a prayer of thanks for each of their lives, then bid them farewell, one by one. The children’s hugs were the perfect send-off as he stepped onto the ship and headed for home–not knowing that their hugs and kind words would also help to carry him through the dark days that he was about to face ahead.

CHAPTER 14 (Back to Table of Contents)

The wind whipped up as soon as Nicholas’ ship left the shore. The ship’s captain had hoped to get a head start on the coming storm, sailing for a few hours along the coast to the harbor in the next city before docking again for the night. It was always a longer trip to go around the edges of the Great Sea, docking in city after city along the way, instead of going directly across to their destination. But going straight across was also more perilous, especially at this time of year. So to beat the approaching winter, and the more quickly approaching storm, they wanted to gain as many hours as they could along the way.

Keeping on schedule, Nicholas found out, was more than just a matter of a captain wanting to make good on his contract with his clients. It was also soon to become a matter of life and death for the families of the crew on board, including the family of the captain. Nicholas found out that a famine had begun to spread across the empire, now affecting the crew’s home city back in Rome. The famine had begun in the countryside as rain had been sparse in the outlying areas, but now the shortages in the country were starting to deplete the reserves in Rome as well. Prices were rising and even families who could afford to pay for food were quickly depleting their resources to get it.

The ship’s captain was not a foolish man, having sailed on these seas for almost 30 years. But he also knew that the risk of holding back on their voyage at a time like this could mean they would be grounded for the rest of the winter. If that happened, his cargo of grain might perish by spring, as well as his family. So the ship pressed on.

It looked to Nicholas like they had made the right decision to set sail. He, too, felt under pressure to get this voyage underway, although it wasn’t family or cargo that motivated him. It was the Spirit of God Himself. He wouldn’t have been able to explain it to anyone except to those who had already experienced it. All he knew was that it was imperative that they start moving.

He had thought he might spend still more time in the Holy Land, perhaps even his entire life. It felt like home to him from the very beginning, as he had heard so many stories about it when he was growing up. He had little family waiting for him elsewhere, and up to this point, he was content to stay right where he was, except for the Spirit’s prompting that it was time to go.

The feeling started as a restlessness at first, a feeling that he was suddenly no longer content to stay where he was. He couldn’t trace the feeling to anything particular that was wrong with where he was, just that it was time to go. But where? Where did God want him to go? Did God have another site for him to see? Another part of the country in which he was supposed to live? Perhaps another country altogether that he was supposed to visit?

As the restlessness grew, his heart and his mind began to explore the options in more detail. He had found in the past that the best way to hear from God was to let go of his own will so that he could fully embrace God’s will, whatever that may be. While letting go was always hard for him, he knew that God would always lead him in the ways that were best. So, finally letting go of his own will, Nicholas began to see God’s will much more clearly in this situation as well. As much as he felt like the Holy Land was his new home, it wasn’t really his home. He felt strongly that the time had come for him to return to the region where he had been born, to the province of Lycia on the northern coast of the Sea. There was something, he felt, that God wanted him to do there–something for which he had been specifically equipped and called to do, and was, in fact, the reason that God had chosen for him to grow up there when he was young. Just as Nicholas had felt drawn to come to the Holy Land, he now felt drawn to return home.

To home he was headed, and to home he must go. That inner drive that he felt was as strong–if not stronger–than the drive that now motivated the ship’s captain and crew to get their cargo home, safe and sound, to their precious families.

Storm or no storm, they had to get home.

CHAPTER 15 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas’ ship never made it to the next harbor along the coast. Instead, the storm they were trying to outrun had outrun them. It caught hold of their ship, pulling it away from the coast within the first few hours at sea. It kept pulling them further and further away from the coast until, three hours later, they found themselves inescapably caught in its torrents.

The crew had already lowered the sails, abandoning their attempts to force the rudder in the opposite direction. They now hoped that by going with the storm rather than against it they would have a better chance of keeping the ship in one piece. But this plan, too, seemed only to drive them into the deepest and most dangerous waters, keeping them near the eye of the storm itself.

After another three hours had passed, the sea sickness that had initially overcome their bodies was no longer a concern, as the fear of death itself was now overtaking all but the most resilient of those on board.

Nicholas, although he had traveled by ship before, was not among those considered to be most resilient. He had never experienced pounding waves like this before. And he wasn’t the only one. To a man, as the storm worsened, each began to speak of this as the worst storm they had ever seen.

The next morning, when the storm still hadn’t let up, and then again on the next morning and the next, and as the waves were still pounding them, they were all wondering why they had been in such a hurry to set out to beat the storm. Now they just hoped and prayed that God would let them live to see one more day, one more hour. As wave after wave pummeled the ship, Nicholas was simply praying they would make it through even one more wave.

His thoughts and prayers were filled with images of what it must have been like for the Apostle Paul, that follower of Christ who had sailed back and forth across the Great Sea several times in similar ships. It was on Paul’s last trip to Rome that he had landed in Myra, only miles from Nicholas’ hometown. Then, as Paul continued on from Myra to Rome, he faced the most violent storm he had ever faced at sea, a raging fury that lasted more than fourteen days and ended with his ship being blasted to bits by the waves as it ran aground on a sandbar, just off the coast of the island of Malta.

Nicholas prayed that their battle with the wind wouldn’t last for fourteen days. He didn’t know if they could make it through even one more day. He tried to think if there was anything that Paul had done to help himself and the 276 men who were on his ship with him to stay alive, even though their ship and its cargo were eventually destroyed. But as hard as he tried to think, all he could remember was that an angel had appeared to Paul on the night before they ran aground. The angel told Paul to take heart–that even though the ship would be destroyed, not one of the men aboard would perish. When Paul told the men about this angelic visit, they all took courage, as Paul was convinced that it would happen just as the angel said it would. And it did.

But for Nicholas, no such angel had appeared. No outcome from heaven had been predicted and no guidance had come about what they should or shouldn’t do. All he felt was that inner compulsion that he had felt before they departed–that they needed to get home as soon as they could.

Not knowing what else to do, Nicholas recalled a phrase of his father’s: “standing orders are good orders.” If a soldier wasn’t sure what to do next, even if the battle around him seemed to change directions, if the commanding officer hadn’t changed the orders, then the soldier was to carry on with the most recent orders given. Standing orders are good orders. It was this piece of wisdom from his father, more than any other thought, that guided Nicholas and gave him the courage to do what he did next.

CHAPTER 16 (Back to Table of Contents)

When the storm seemed to be at its worst, Nicholas’ thoughts turned to the children he had just left. His thoughts of them didn’t fill him with sadness, but with hope.

He began to take courage from the stories they had all learned about how Jesus had calmed the storm, how Moses had split the Red Sea and how Joshua had made the Jordan River stop flowing. Nicholas and the children had often tried to imagine what it must have been like to be able to exercise control over the elements like that. Nicholas had even, on occasion, tried to do some of these things himself, right along with Dimitri, Samuel and Ruthie. When it rained, they lifted their hands and prayed to try to stop the rain from coming down. But it just kept raining on their heads. When they got to the Sea of Galilee, they tried to walk on top of the water, just like Jesus did–and even Peter did, if only for a few short moments. But Nicholas and the children assumed they must not have had enough faith or strength or whatever it might have taken for them to do such things.

As another wave crashed over the side of the ship on which Nicholas was now standing, he realized there was a common thread that ran through each of these stories. Maybe it wasn’t their faith that was the problem after all, but God’s timing. In each instance from the stories he could remember, God didn’t allow those miracles on a whim, just for the entertainment of the people who were trying to do them. God allowed them because God had places for them to go, people they needed to see and lives that needed to be spared. There was an urgency in each situation that required the people to accomplish not only what was on their heart, but what was on God’s heart as well.

It seemed that the miracles were provided not because of their attempts to try to reorder God’s world, but in God’s attempts to try to reorder their worlds. It seemed to Nicholas that it must be a combination of their prayers of faith, plus God’s divine will, that caused a spark between heaven and earth, ignited by their two wills working together, that burst into a power that could move mountains.

When Jesus needed to get across the lake, but His disciples had already taken off in the boat, He was able to ignite by faith the process that allowed Him to walk on water, and thereafter calm the storm that threatened to take their lives when He finally did catch up to them.

“Standing orders are good orders,” Nicholas recalled, and he believed with all his heart that if God hadn’t changed His orders, then somehow they needed to do whatever they could to get to the other side of the Sea. But it wasn’t enough for God to will it. God was looking for someone willing, here on earth to will it, too, thereby completing the divine connection and causing the miracle to burst forth. Like Moses when he lifted his staff into the air or Joshua’s priests who took the first steps into the Jordan River, God needed someone to agree with Him in faith that what He had willed to happen in heaven should happen here on earth. God had already told Nicholas what needed to happen. Now it was up to Nicholas to complete the divine connection.

“Men!” Nicholas yelled to get the crew’s attention. “The God whom I serve, and who Has given each one of us life, wants us to reach our destination even more than we want to reach it. We must agree in faith, here and now, that God not only can do it, but that He wills us to do it. If you love God, or even if you think you might want to love God, I want you to pray along with me, that we will indeed reach our destination, and that nothing will stand in the way of our journey!”

As soon as Nicholas had spoken these words, the unthinkable happened: not only did the wind not stop, but it picked up speed! Nicholas faltered for a moment as if he had made some sort of cosmic mistake, some sort of miscalculation about the way God worked and what God wanted him to do. But then he noticed that even though the wind had picked up speed, it had also shifted directions, ever so slightly, but in such a distinct and noticeable way that God had gotten the attention of every man on board. Now, instead of being pounded by the waves from both sides, they were sailing straight through them, as if a channel had been cut into the waves themselves. The ship was driven along like this, not only for the next several moments, but for the next several hours.

When the speed and direction of the ship continued to hold its steady but impressively fast course, the captain of the ship came to Nicholas. He said he had never seen anything like this in his whole life. It was as if an invisible hand was holding the rudder of the ship, steady and straight, even though the ropes that held the rudder were completely unmanned, as they had been abandoned long ago when the winds first reached gale force.

Nicholas knew, too–even though he was certainly not as well seasoned as the captain–that this was not a normal phenomenon on the seas. He felt something supernatural taking control the moment he first stood up to speak to the men, and he felt it still as they continued on their path straight ahead.

What lay before them he didn’t know. But what he did know was that the One who had brought them this far was not going to take His hand off that rudder until His mission was accomplished.

CHAPTER 17 (Back to Table of Contents)

The storm that they thought was going to take their lives turned out to be the storm that saved many more. Rather than going the long way around the sea, following the coastline in the process, the storm had driven them straight across it, straight into the most dangerous path that they never would have attempted on their own at that time of year.

When they sighted land early on the morning of the fifth day, they recognized it clearly. It was the city of Myra, just a few miles away from Nicholas’ hometown, and the same city where the Apostle Paul had changed ships on his famous journey to Rome.

It was close enough to home that Nicholas knew in his heart that he was about to land in the exact spot where God wanted him to be. God, without a doubt, had spared his life for a purpose, a purpose which would now begin the next chapter of his life.

As they sailed closer to the beach, they could see that the storm that raged at sea had hardly been felt on shore.

The rains that had flooded their ship for the past several days, and that should have been watering the land as well, hadn’t made it inland for several months. The drought that the captain and sailors had told him had come to Rome had already been here in Lycia for two and a half years. The cumulative effect was that the crops that were intended to supply their reserves for the coming winter and for next year’s seed had already been depleted. If the people of Lycia didn’t get grain to eat now, many would never make it through the winter, and still more would die the following spring, as they wouldn’t have seed to plant another crop. This ship was one of the last that had made it out of the fertile valleys of Egypt before the winter, and its arrival at this moment in time was like a miracle in the eyes of the people. It was certainly an answer to their prayers.

But that answer wasn’t so clear to the captain of the ship. He had been under strict orders from the keeper of the Imperial storehouses in Rome that not one kernel of grain could be missing when the ship arrived back in Rome. The ship had been weighed in Alexandria before it left Egypt and it would be weighed again in Rome–and the captain would be held personally responsible for any discrepancy. The famine had put increasing pressure on the emperor to bring any kind of relief to the people. Not only this, but the families of the captain and crew themselves were awaiting the arrival of this food. Their jobs, and the lives of their families, relied on the safe delivery of every bit of grain aboard.

Yet without the faith and encouragement of Nicholas, the captain knew that the ship and its cargo would have been lost at sea, along with all of their lives.

While it was clear to Nicholas that God had brought him back to his homeland, he too wasn’t entirely certain what to do about the grain. While it seemed that giving at least some of the grain to the people of Myra was in order, Nicholas still tried to see it from God’s perspective. Was this city, or any other city throughout the empire, any more in need of the grain than Rome, which had bought and paid for it to be delivered? But it also seemed to Nicholas that the ship had been driven specifically to this particular city, in a straight and steady line through the towering waves.

The whole debate of what they were to do next took place within just a matter of minutes of their arrival on shore. And Nicholas and the captain had little time to think through what they were going to do, as the people of the city were already running out to see the ship for themselves, having been amazed at the way God had seemingly brought it to their famished port. They were gathering in larger and larger numbers to welcome the boat, and giving thanks and praise to God at the same time.

Both Nicholas and the captain knew that only God Himself could answer their dilemma. The two of them, along with the rest of the crew, had already agreed the night before–as they were so steadily and swiftly being carried along through the water–that the first thing they would do when they arrived on shore was to go to the nearest church and give thanks to God for His deliverance. Upon seeing where they had landed, Nicholas knew exactly where they could find that church. It was one that his family had visited from time to time as they traveled between these twin cities of Patara and Myra. Telling the people that their first order of duty was to give thanks to God for their safe passage, Nicholas and the captain and his crew headed to the church in Myra.

As they made their way across the city and up into the hills that cradled the church, they had no idea that the priests inside its walls had already been doing battle with a storm of their own.

PART 4

Listen to Part 4 here (30 minutes, including Chapters 18-24)

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric and Lana Elder

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

CHAPTER 18 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas’ next step in life was about to be determined by a dream. But it wasn’t a dream that Nicholas had conceived–it was a dream that God had conceived and had put in the mind of a man, a priest in the city of Myra.

In the weeks leading up to Nicholas’ arrival in Myra, a tragedy had befallen the church there. Their aging bishop, the head of their church, had died. The tragedy that had fallen upon the church wasn’t the bishop’s death, for he had lived a long and fruitful life and had simply succumbed to the effects of old age. The tragedy arose out of the debate that ensued regarding who should take his place as the next bishop.

While it would seem that such things could be resolved amicably, especially within a church, when people’s hearts are involved, their loyalties and personal desires can sometimes muddy their thoughts so much that they can’t see what God’s will is in a particular situation. It can be hard for anyone, even for people of faith, to keep their minds free from preconceived ideas and personal preferences regarding what God may, or may not, want to do at any given time.

This debate was the storm that had been brewing for a week now, and which had reached its apex the night before Nicholas’ arrival.

That night one of the priests had a dream that startled him awake. In his dream he saw a man whom he had never seen before who was clearly to take up the responsibilities of their dearly departed bishop. When he woke from his dream, he remembered nothing about what the man looked like, but only remembered his name: Nicholas.

“Nicholas?” asked one of the other priests when he heard his fellow priest’s dream. “None of us have ever gone by that name, nor is there anyone in the whole city by that name.”

Nicholas was, to be sure, not a popular name at the time. It was only mentioned once in passing in one of Luke’s writings about the early church, along with other names which were just as uncommon in those days in Myra like Procorus, Nicanor, Timon and Parmenas. It seemed ridiculous to the other priests that this dream could possibly be from God. But the old priest reminded them, “Even the name of Jesus was given to His father by an angel in a dream.”

Perhaps it was this testimony from the gospels, or perhaps it was the unlikelihood that it would ever happen, that the priests all agreed that they would strongly consider the next person who walked through their door who answered to the name of Nicholas. It would certainly help to break the deadlock in which they found themselves.

What a surprise then, when they opened their doors for their morning prayers, when an entire shipload of men started to stream into the church!

The priests greeted each of the men at the door as they entered, welcoming them into the church. The last two to enter were the captain and Nicholas, as they had allowed all of the others to enter first. The captain thanked the priests for opening their doors to them for their morning prayers, then turned to Nicholas and said, “And thanks to Nicholas for having this brilliant idea to come here today.”

The astonished priests looked at one another in disbelief. Perhaps God had answered their prayers after all.

CHAPTER 19 (Back to Table of Contents)

The captain’s concern about what to do with the grain on his ship dissipated when they arrived at the church as fast as the storm had dissipated when they arrived on shore.

Within moments of beginning their morning prayers, he was convinced that it could only have been the mighty hand of God that had held their rudder straight and true. He knew now for sure he wanted to make an offering of the grain to the people who lived there. God spoke to him about both the plan and the amount. It was as if the captain were playing the role of Abraham in the old, old story when Abraham offered a portion of his riches to Melchizedek the priest.

The captain was willing to take his chances with his superiors in Rome rather than take any chances with the God who had delivered them all. He knew that without God’s guidance and direction so far on this journey, neither he nor his men nor the ship nor its grain would have ever made it to Rome at all.

When the captain stood up from his prayers, he quickly found Nicholas to share the answer with him as well. Nicholas agreed both to the plan and to the amount. The captain asked, “Do you think it will be enough for all these people?”

Nicholas replied, “Jesus was able to feed 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fishand what you want to give to this city is much more than what Jesus had to start with!”

“How did He do it?” asked the captainalmost to himself as much as to Nicholas.

“All I know,” answered Nicholas, “is that He looked up to heaven, gave thanks and began passing out the food with His disciples. In the end everyone was satisfied and they still had twelve baskets full of food left over!”

“That’s exactly what we’ll do then, too,” said the captain.

And the story would be told for years to come how the captain of the ship looked up to heaven, gave thanks and began passing out the grain with his crew. It was enough to satisfy the people of that city for two whole years and to plant and reap even more in the third year.

As the priests said goodbye to the captain and crew, they asked Nicholas if he would be able to stay behind for a time. The winds of confusion that had whipped up and then subsided inside the captain’s mind were about to pale in comparison to the storm that was about to break open inside the mind of Nicholas.

CHAPTER 20 (Back to Table of Contents)

When the priests told Nicholas about their dream and that he just might be the answer to their prayers, Nicholas was dumbfounded and amazed, excited and perplexed. He had often longed to be used by God in a powerful way, and it was unmistakable that God had already brought him straight across the Great Sea to this very spot at this very hour!

But to become a priest, let alone a bishop, would be a decision that would last a lifetime. He had oftentimes considered taking up his earthly father’s business. His father had been highly successful at it, and Nicholas felt he could do the same. But even more important to him than doing the work of his father was to have a family like his father.

Nicholas’ memories of his parents were so fond that he longed to create more memories of his own with a family of his own. The custom of all the priests Nicholas knew, however, was to abstain from marriage and child-bearing so they could more fully devote themselves to the needs of the community around them.

Nicholas pulled back mentally at the thought of having to give up his desire for a family of his own. It wasn’t that having a family was a conscious dream that often filled his thoughts, but it was one of those assumptions in the back of his mind that he took for granted would come at some point in his future.

The shock of having to give up on the idea of a family, even before he had fully considered having one yet, was like a jolt to his system. Following God’s will shouldn’t be so difficult, he thought! But he had learned from his parents that laying down your will for the sake of God’s will wasn’t always so easy, another lesson they had learned from Jesus.

So just because it was a difficult decision wasn’t enough to rule it out. An image also floated through his mind of those three smiling faces he had met when he first landed in the Holy Land, with their heads bowed down and their hands outstretched. Hadn’t they seemed like family to him? And weren’t there hundredseven thousandsof children just like them, children who had no family of their own, no one to care for them, no one to look after their needs?

And weren’t there countless others in the worldwidows and widowers and those who had families in name but not in their actual relationshipswho still needed the strength and encouragement and sense of family around them? And weren’t there still other families as well, like Nicholas and his parents, who had been happy on their own but found additional happiness when they came together as the family of believers in their city? Giving up on the idea of a family of his own didn’t mean he had to give up on the idea of having a family altogether. In fact, it may even be possible that he could have an even larger “family” in this way.

The more Nicholas thought about what he might give up in order to serve God in the church, the more he thought about how God might use this new position in ways that went beyond Nicholas’ own thoughts and desires. And if God was indeed in this decision, perhaps it had its own special rewards in the end.

The fury of the storm that swept through his mind began to abate. In its place, God’s peace began to flow over both his mind and his heart. Nicholas recognized this as the peace of God’s divine will being clearly revealed to him. It only took another moment for Nicholas to know what his answer would be.

The storms that had once seemed so threatening–whether the storm at sea or the storm in the church or the storms in the minds of both the captain and Nicholas–now turned out to be blessings of God instead. They were blessings that proved to Nicholas once again that no matter what happened, God really could work all things for good for those who loved Him and who were called according to His purpose.

Yes, if the priests would have him, Nicholas would become the next bishop of Myra.

CHAPTER 21 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas didn’t suddenly become another man when he became a bishop. He became a bishop because of the man he already was. As he had done before with his father so many years earlier, Nicholas continued to do now, here in the city of Myra and the surrounding towns: walking and praying and asking God where he could be of most help.

It was on one of these prayerful walks that Nicholas met Anna Maria. She was a beautiful girl only eleven years old, but her beauty was disguised to most others by the poverty she wore. Nicholas found her one day trying to sell flowers that she had made out of braided blades of grass. But the beauty of the flowers also seemed to be disguised to everyone but Nicholas, for no one would buy her simple creations.

As Nicholas stepped towards her, she reminded him instantly of little Ruthie, whom he had left behind in the Holy Land, with the golden flowers in her hand on the hillsides of Bethlehem.

When he stopped for a closer look, God spoke to his heart. It seemed to Nicholas that this must have been what Moses felt when he stopped to look at the burning bush in the desert, a moment when his natural curiosity turned into a supernatural encounter with the Living God.

“Your flowers are beautiful,” said Nicholas. “May I hold one?”

The young girl handed him one of her creations. As he looked at it, he looked at her. The beauty he saw in both the flower and the girl was stunning. Somehow Nicholas had the ability to see what others could not see, or did not see, as Nicholas always tried to see people and things and life the way God saw them, as if God were looking through his eyes.

“I’d like to buy this one, if I could,” he said.

Delighted, she smiled for the first time. She told him the price, and he gave her a coin.

“Tell me,” said Nicholas, “what will you do with the money you make from selling these beautiful flowers?”

What Nicholas heard next broke his heart.

Anna Maria was the youngest of three sisters: Sophia, Cecilia and Anna Maria. Although their father loved them deeply, he had been plunged into despair when his once-successful business had failed, and then his wife passed away shortly thereafter. Lacking the strength and the resources to pick himself up out of the darkness, the situation for his family grew bleaker and bleaker.

Anna Maria’s oldest sister, Sophia, had just turned 18, and she turned a number of heads as well. But no one would marry her because her father had no dowry to offer to any potential suitor. And with no dowry, there was little likelihood that she, nor any of the three girls, would ever be married.

The choices facing their father were grim. He knew he must act soon or risk the possibility of Cecilia and Anna Maria never getting married in the future, either. With no way to raise a suitable dowry for her, and being too proud to take charity from others, even if someone had had the funds to offer to him, her father was about to do the unthinkable: he was going to sell his oldest daughter into slavery to help make ends meet.

How their father could think this was the best solution available to him, Nicholas couldn’t imagine. But he also knew that desperation often impaired even the best-intentioned men. By sacrificing his oldest daughter in this way, the father reasoned that perhaps he could somehow spare the younger two from a similar fate.

Anna Maria, for her part, had come up with the idea of making and selling flowers as a way to spare her sister from this fate that was to her worse than death. Nicholas held back his tears out of respect for Anna Maria and the noble effort she was making to save her sister.

He also refrained from buying Anna Maria’s whole basket of flowers right there on the spot, for Nicholas knew it would take more than a basket full of flowers to save Sophia. It would take a miracle. And as God spoke to his heart that day, Nicholas knew that God just might use him to deliver it.

CHAPTER 22 (Back to Table of Contents)

Without show and without fanfare, Nicholas offered a prayer for Anna Maria, along with his thanks for the flower, and encouraged her to keep doing what she could to help her family–and to keep trusting in God to do what she couldn’t.

Nicholas knew he could help this family. He knew he had the resources to make a difference in their lives, for he still had a great deal of his parents’ wealth hidden in the cliffs near the coast for occasions such as this. But he also knew that Anna Maria’s proud father would never accept charity from any man, even at this bleakest hour.

Her father’s humiliation at losing his business, along with his own personal loss, had blinded him to the reality of what was about to happen to his daughter. Nicholas wanted to help, but how? How could he step into the situation without further humiliating Anna Maria’s father, possibly causing him to refuse the very help that Nicholas could extend to him. Nicholas did what he always did when he needed wisdom. He prayed. And before the day was out, he had his answer.

Nicholas put his plan into action–and none too soon! It just so happened that the next day was the day when Sophia’s fate would be sealed.

Taking a fair amount of gold coins from his savings, Nicholas placed them into a small bag. It was small enough to fit in one hand, but heavy enough to be sure that it would adequately supply the need.

Hiding under the cover of night, he crossed the city of Myra to the home where Anna Maria, her father and her two older sisters lived.

He could hear them talking inside as he quietly approached the house. Their mood was understandably downcast as they discussed what they thought was their inevitable next step. They asked God to give them the strength to do whatever they needed to do.

For years, Sophia and her sisters had dreamed of the day when they would each meet the man of their dreams. They had even written love songs to these men, trusting that God would bring each of them the perfect man at the perfect time.

Now it seemed like all their songs, all their prayers and all their dreams had been in vain. Sophia wasn’t the only one who felt the impact of this new reality, for her two younger sisters knew that the same fate might one day await each of them.

The girls wanted to trust God, but no matter how hard they thought about their situation, each of them felt like their dreams were about to be shattered.

At Anna Maria’s prompting, they tried to sing their favorite love song one more time, but their sadness simply deepened at the words. It was no longer a song of hope, but a song of despair, and the words now seemed so impossible to them.

It was not just a song, but a prayer, and one of the deepest prayers Nicholas had ever heard uttered by human tongue. His heart went out to each of them, while at the same time it pounded with fear. He had a plan, and he hoped it would work, but he had no way of knowing for sure. He wasn’t worried about what might happen to him if he were discovered, but he was worried that their father would reject his gift if he knew where it had come from. That would certainly seal the girls’ doom. As Sophia and Cecilia and Anna Maria said their goodnights–and their father had put out the lights–Nicholas knew that his time had come.

Inching closer to the open window of the room where they had been singing, Nicholas bent down low to his knees. He lobbed the bag of coins into the air and through the window. It arced gracefully above him and seemed to hang in the air for a moment before landing with a soft thud in the center of the room. A few coins bounced loose, clinking faintly on the ground, rolling and then coming to a stop. Nicholas turned quickly and hid in the darkness nearby as the girls and their father awoke at the sound.

They called out to see if anyone was there, but when they heard no answer, they entered the room from both directions. As their father lit the light, Anna Maria was the first to see it–and gasped.

There, in the center of the room, lay a small round bag, shimmering with golden coins at the top. The girls gathered around their father as he carefully picked up the bag and opened it.

It was more than enough gold to provide a suitable dowry for Sophia, with more to spare to take care of the rest of the family for some time to come!

But where could such a gift have come from? The girls were sure it had come from God Himself in answer to their prayers! But their father wanted to know more. Who had God used to deliver it? Certainly no one they knew. He sprinted out of the house, followed by his daughters, to see if he could find any trace of the deliverer, but none could be found.

Returning back inside, and with no one to return the money to, the girls and their father got down on their knees and thanked God for His deliverance.

As Nicholas listened in the darkness, he too gave thanks to God, for this was the very thing Nicholas hoped they would do. He knew that the gift truly was from God, provided by God and given through Nicholas by God’s prompting in answer to their prayers. Nicholas had only given to them what God had given to him in the first place. Nicholas neither wanted nor needed any thanks nor recognition for the gift. God alone deserved their praise.

But by allowing Nicholas to be involved, using Nicholas’ own hands and his own inheritance to bless others, Nicholas felt a joy that he could hardly contain. By delivering the gift himself, Nicholas was able to ensure that the gift was properly given. And by giving the gift anonymously, he was able to ensure that the true Giver of the gift was properly credited.

The gift was delivered and God got the credit. Nicholas had achieved both of his goals.

CHAPTER 23 (Back to Table of Contents)

While Nicholas preferred to do his acts of goodwill in secret, there were times when, out of sheer necessity, he had to act in broad daylight. And while it was his secret acts that gained him favor with God, it was his public acts that gained him favor with men.

Many people rightly appreciate a knight in shining armor, but not everyone wants to be rescued from evil–especially those who profit from it.

One such man was a magistrate in Myra, a leader in the city who disliked Nicholas intensely–or anyone who stood in the way of what he wanted.

This particular magistrate was both corrupt and corruptible. He was willing to do anything to get what he wanted, no matter what it cost to others. Although Nicholas had already been at odds with him several times in the past, their conflict escalated to a boiling point when news reached Nicholas that the magistrate had sentenced three men to death–for a crime Nicholas was sure they did not commit. Nicholas couldn’t wait this time for the cover of darkness. He knew he needed to act immediately to save these men from death.

Nicholas had been entertaining some generals from Rome that afternoon whose ship had docked in Myra’s port the night before. Nicholas had invited the generals to his home to hear news about some changes that had been taking place in Rome. A new emperor was about to take power, they said, and the implications might be serious for Nicholas and his flock of Christ-followers.

It was during their luncheon that Nicholas heard about the unjust sentencing and the impending execution. Immediately he set out for the site where the execution was to take place. The three generals, sensing more trouble might ensue once Nicholas arrived, set out after him.

When Nicholas burst onto the execution site, the condemned men were already on the platform. They were bound and bent over with their heads and necks ready for the executioner’s sword.

Without a thought for his own safety, Nicholas leapt onto the platform and tore the sword from the executioner’s hands. Although Nicholas was not a fighter himself, Nicholas made his move so unexpectedly that the executioner made little attempt to try to wrestle the sword back out of the bishop’s hands.

Nicholas knew these men were as innocent as the magistrate was guilty. He was certain that it must have been the men’s good deeds, not their bad ones, that had offended the magistrate. Nicholas untied the ropes of the innocent men in full view of the onlookers, defying both the executioner and the magistrate.

The magistrate came forward to face Nicholas squarely. But as he did so, the three generals who had been having lunch with Nicholas also stepped forward. One took his place on Nicholas’ left, another on Nicholas’ right and the third stood directly in front of him. Prudently, the magistrate took a step back. Nicholas knew that this was the time to press the magistrate for the truth.

Although the magistrate tried to defend himself, his pleas of fell on deaf ears. No one would believe his lies anymore. He tried to convince the people that it was not he who wanted to condemn these innocent men, but two other businessmen in town who had given him a bribe in order to have these men condemned. But by trying to shift the blame to others, the magistrate condemned himself for the greed that was in his heart.

Nicholas declared: “It seems that it was not these two men who have corrupted you, sir, but two others–whose names are Gold and Silver!”

Cut to the quick, the magistrate broke down and made a full confession in front of all the people for this and for all the other wrongs he had done, even for speaking ill of Nicholas, who had done nothing but good for the people. Nicholas set more than three prisoners free that day, as even the magistrate was finally set free from his greed by his honest confession. Seeing the heartfelt change in the magistrate, Nicholas pardoned him, forever winning the magistrate’s favor–and the people’s favor–from that moment on.

When Nicholas was born, his parents had named him Nicholas, which means in Greek “the people’s victor.” Through acts like these, Nicholas became “the people’s victor” both in name and in deed.

Nicholas was already becoming an icon–even in his own time.

CHAPTER 24 (Back to Table of Contents)

Within three months of receiving her unexpected dowry from Nicholas, Sophia had received a visit from a suitor–one who “suited her” just fine. He truly was the answer to her prayers, and she was thankfully, happily and finally married.

Two years later, however, Sophia’s younger sister Cecilia found herself in dire straights as well. Although Cecilia was ready to be married now, her father’s business had not improved, no matter how hard he tried. As the money that Nicholas had given to the family began to run out, their despair began to set in. Pride and sorrow had once again blinded Cecilia’s father to the truth, and he felt his only option was to commit Cecilia to a life of slavery, hoping to save his third and final daughter from a similar fate.

While they were confident that God had answered their prayers once, their circumstances had caused them to doubt that He could do it again. A second rescue at this point was more than they could have asked for or imagined.

Nicholas, however, knowing their situation by this time much more intimately, knew that God was prompting him again to intercede. It had been two years since his earlier rescue, but in all that time the family never suspected nor discovered that he was the deliverer of God’s gift.

As the time came closer to a decision on what they should do next, Nicholas knew his time to act had come as well. And in order to make it clear that his gift was to be used first and foremost for Cecilia’s dowry, and then after that for any other needs the family might have, he waited until the night before she was to be sold into slavery to make his move.

Once again waiting for the cover of darkness, Nicholas approached their house. Cecilia and Anna Maria had already gone to bed early that night, sent there by their father who had told them not to expect any similar miracle to what happened for Sophia. But somewhere in the depths of his despair, their father still had a glimmer of hope in his heart, a wish perhaps, more than anything else, that Someone really was watching out for him and that his prayers just might still be answered. With that hope, he decided to stay awake and stay close to the window, just in case some angel did appear–whether an earthly one or a heavenly one.

Nicholas knew this might happen, and he knew that Cecilia’s father might still reject his gift if he found out that Nicholas had given it. But he also hoped that perhaps her father’s proud heart had softened a bit and he would accept the gift even if Nicholas was discovered.

Seeing that the house was perfectly quiet, Nicholas knelt down beside the open window. He tossed the second bag of gold into the room.

The bag had barely hit the ground when the girls’ father leapt out of the window through which it had come and overtook Nicholas as he tried to flee. You might have thought that Nicholas had taken a bag of gold rather than given a bag of gold the way the girls’ father chased him down!

Fearing that all his efforts had been wasted, Nicholas’ heart was eased as the man didn’t rebuke Nicholas but thanked him without even looking at who he had caught.

“Please hear me out,” he said. “I just want to thank you. You’ve done so much already for me and my family that I couldn’t have expected such a gift again. But your generosity has opened my eyes to the pride in my heart–a pride that almost cost me the lives of two daughters now.”

The girls’ father had spoken both breathlessly and quickly to be sure that the stranger would hear him before trying to escape again. But when he looked up to see who he was talking to–Nicholas the priest–the shock on their father’s face was evident. How could a priest afford to give such an incredible gift?

In answer to this unasked question, Nicholas spoke: “Yes, it was I who delivered this gift to you, but it was God who gave it to me to give to you. It is not from the church and not from the charity of my own hand. It came from my father who earned it fairly by the work of his hands. He was a businessman like you. And if he were alive today, he would have wanted to give it to you himself. I’m sure of it. He, of all people, knew how difficult it was to run a business, just as you do. He also loved his family, just as you do, too.”

Nicholas paused to let his words sink in, then continued, “But please, for my sake and for God’s sake, please know that it was God Himself who has answered your prayers–for He has. I am simply a messenger for Him, a deliverer, a tool in His hands, allowing Him to do through me what I know He wants done. As for me, I prefer to do my giving in secret, not even letting my right hand know what my left hand is doing.”

The look on Nicholas’ face was so sincere and he conveyed his intentions with such love and devotion for the One whom he served, that the girls’ father could not help but to accept Nicholas’ gift as if it had truly come from the hand of God Himself.

But as they said their goodbyes, the girls and their father could hardly contain their thankfulness to Nicholas, too, for letting God use him in such a remarkable way.

As much as Nicholas tried to deflect their praise back to God, he also knew he did have a role to play in their lives. Although God prompts many to be generous in their hearts, not everyone responds to those promptings as Nicholas did.

Nicholas would wait to see how the family fared over the next few years to see if they would need any help for Anna Maria, too.

But Nicholas never got the chance. The new emperor had finally come into power, and the course of Nicholas’ life was about to change again. Even though Nicholas often came to the rescue of others, there were times when, like the Savior he followed, it seemed he was unable to rescue himself.

PART 5

Listen to Part 5 here (25-1/2 minutes, including Chapters 25-30)

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric and Lana Elder

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

CHAPTER 25 (Back to Table of Contents)

Back when Jesus was born, there was a king who felt so threatened by this little baby boy that he gave orders to kill every boy in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under. Three hundred and three years later, another king felt just as threatened by Jesus, as well as his followers.

This new king’s name was Diocletian, and he was the emperor of the entire Roman Empire. Even though the Romans had killed Jesus hundreds of years earlier, Diocletian still felt threatened by the Christians who followed Jesus. Diocletian declared himself to be a god and he wanted all the people in his empire to worship him.

Although Christians were among the most law-abiding citizens in the land, they simply couldn’t worship Diocletian. He considered this an act of insurrection, an act which must be quenched in the strongest way possible. By the time Diocletian had finally risen to his full power, he ordered that all Bibles be burned, that Christian churches be destroyed and that those who followed Christ be imprisoned, tortured and put to death.

While persecution against Christians had been taking place for many years under Roman rule, none of those persecutions compared to that which took place during the reign of Diocletian. Nicholas, for his part, didn’t fear Diocletian, but as always, he feared for those in his church who followed Jesus.

Having such a visible role in the church, Nicholas knew that he would be targeted first, and if he were taken away, he feared for what would happen to those who would be left behind. But Nicholas had already made his decision. He knew that even if he was killed he could trust God that God could still accomplish His purpose on earth whether Nicholas were a part of that or not. It was this foundational faith and trust in God and His purposes that would help Nicholas through the difficult years ahead.

Rather than retreat into hiding from the certain fate that awaited him, Nicholas chose to stand his ground to the end. He vowed to keep the doors to his church wide open for all who wanted to come in. And he kept that vow for as long as he could until one day when those who came in were soldiers–soldiers who had come for him.

CHAPTER 26 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas was ready when the soldiers arrived. He knew that his time for second-guessing his decision to keep the church open was over. Unfortunately, the days for his church were over, too, as the soldiers shut the doors for good when they left.

For all the goodwill that Nicholas had built up with people in his town over the years, even with the local soldiers, these were no local soldiers who came for Nicholas. Diocletian had sent them with demands that his orders be carried out unquestioningly, and that those who didn’t carry them out would suffer the same fate as those who were to be punished.

Nicholas was given one last chance to renounce his faith in Christ and worship Diocletian instead, but Nicholas, of course, refused. It wasn’t that he wanted to defy Roman authority, for Christ Himself taught His followers that it was important to honor those in authority and to honor their laws. But to deny that Jesus was His Lord and Savior would have been like trying to deny that the sun had risen that morning! He simply couldn’t do it. How could he deny the existence of the One who had given him life, who had given him faith and who had given him hope in the darkest hours of his life. If the soldiers had to take him away, so be it. To say that a mere man like Diocletian was God, and that Jesus was anything less than God, was unconscionable.

For all his faith, Nicholas was still subject to the same sensations of pain that every human being experiences. His strong faith did not exempt him from the natural fear that others feel when they are threatened with bodily harm. He also feared the idea of imprisonment, having to be isolated from others for so long, especially when he didn’t know how long his imprisonment might last–or if he would survive it at all.

Nicholas knew that these fears were healthy, given to him by God, to keep out any danger and to protect him from anything that might possibly harm his body. But right now, as Nicholas was being forcefully taken away, he wished he could suppress those fears.

“God, help me,” he called out as the shackles that the soldiers were putting on his wrists cut into them. This was the beginning of a new kind of pilgrimage for Nicholas–a pilgrimage that would last far longer than his years in the Holy Land.

It would be hard to compare these two journeys in terms of their impact on his life, for how could you compare a journey freely taken, where you could come and go as you please and stop the journey at any time, with a journey that was forced upon you against your will, where even venturing out to catch a glimpse of the sun was under someone else’s control and not yours?

Yet Nicholas found that he was able to sense the presence of God in a way that equalled, if not surpassed, all that he had experienced in the Holy Land. As he had learned from other believers, sometimes you don’t realize that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.

Over the course of his imprisonment, whenever the door to Nicholas’ prison cell opened, he didn’t know if the guards were there to set him free or to sentence him to death. He never knew if any given day might be his last. But the byproduct of this uncertainty was that Nicholas received a keen awareness of the brevity of life, as well as a continual awareness of the presence of God.

Nicholas found that by closing his eyes he could sense God’s presence in a way he had never sensed it before. This cell wasn’t a prison–it was a sanctuary. And all Nicholas wanted to do was to stay in God’s presence as long as he could. Soon, Nicholas didn’t even have to close his eyes. He simply knew that he was always in the presence of God.

Of course, his time in prison was also filled with the stinging pain of the worst kind of hell on earth. The soldiers were relentless in their attempts to get Nicholas to renounce his faith. The pain they inflicted ranged from prodding him with hot branding irons and squeezing his flesh with hot pincers to whipping him severely, then pouring salt and vinegar in his wounds. As a result, his back was permanently scarred. The unsanitary conditions of the prison caused Nicholas to experience more kinds of sickness than he had ever experienced before. At times he even wondered if death might be better than what he had to endure there.

It was during one of those times, the darkest perhaps, of the five years he had spent so far in prison, that the door to his cell opened. A light streamed in, but as he looked at it closely, it wasn’t the light of the sun, for as far as Nicholas could tell in his isolated cell, it was still just the middle of the night.

The light that entered the room was the light of a smile, a smile on the face of Nicholas’ young friend, now grown to be a man. It was the light of the smiling face of Dimitri.

CHAPTER 27 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas had seen few faces in his time in prison, and fewer still that gave him any kind of encouragement. To see a smile on someone’s face, let alone a face that Nicholas loved so much, was pure joy.

It hadn’t been easy for Dimitri to find Nicholas. Dimitri had come to Myra knowing that Nicholas had taken a church there. But it had been years since Dimitri had heard from his friend, a time in which Dimitri himself had been imprisoned. Having only recently been set free, Dimitri made his way across the Great Sea in search of Nicholas. Dimitri had to search hard to find Nicholas, but Dimitri had come too far to give up without seeing his old friend and mentor, the first person who had shown him the love of Christ.

Using the street-smarts that he had acquired as a guide in the Holy Land, Dimitri was able to navigate his way through or around most anyone or anything that stood in his way. Dimitri’s tenacity, plus the hand of God’s guidance, helped Dimitri to find his friend, and to find this door which he opened that night for this special visit. It was a visit that, to Nicholas, seemed like a visit by an angel from heaven.

After the door closed behind them, and after an extended embrace, Dimitri sat down on the floor next to Nicholas. They sat in silence for several minutes, neither of them having to say a word. In holy moments like these, words were unnecessary.

The darkness in the small cell was so great that they didn’t even try to look at one another, but simply sat there side by side. Dimitri’s eyes had not yet adjusted to the pitch-blackness enough to see anything anyway, and Nicholas was content to merely know that his friend was right there by him. Nicholas could hear the sound of Dimitri’s breath, a sound which increased Nicholas’ joy, knowing that his friend was still alive and was right there in the flesh.

Nicholas drew in another deep breath and with it he breathed in a new sense of life. It was a breath of life that his friend couldn’t help but bring with him.

CHAPTER 28 (Back to Table of Contents)

“And how are our two young bodyguards doing?” Nicholas asked at last, referring to Samuel and Ruthie. Nicholas had been praying often for all three of them, as he cared for them as if they were his own young brothers and sister.

Dimitri hesitated. He looked at Nicholas but couldn’t say a word. He was eager to tell Nicholas everything that had happened in the years that had passed, about how Samuel and Ruthie continued taking people to the holy places, sharing with others the same good news of Jesus that they had discovered in their days with Nicholas.

Like Dimitri, Samuel and Ruthie had to stop guiding pilgrims when the “Great Persecution” came, as it was now being called. All three of them began spending most of their days seeing to the needs of the other believers in Jerusalem, believers who were facing imprisonment and death, just like Nicholas. Since they were not in a high profile position like Nicholas though, the three of them were able to avoid being caught longer than Nicholas. But eventually, they too were imprisoned, being repeatedly questioned, threatened and tortured for their faith.

Samuel and Dimitri were strong enough to withstand the abuse, but Ruthie was too frail. One day, after being treated particularly harshly, she returned to them and collapsed. Although she had obviously been crying from the pain in her body, somehow she had also managed to keep a smile in her heart.

“How can you do it?” asked Samuel. “How can you possibly still smile, even after all that?”

Ruthie replied, “I feel like I’ve been walking and talking with Jesus for so long now that even death wouldn’t really change that. I’ll just keep on walking and talking with Him forever.”

Ruthie smiled again and Dimitri couldn’t help but smile back at her. But her body was giving out and she knew it. She could sense that she was just moments away from passing from this life to the next.

“You can’t go!” said Samuel. “You’ve got to stay here with me! There’s still too much work to be done!” But Ruthie was slipping away.

“If you die, I’ll just pray that God will bring you back to life!” Samuel was desperate now to hang onto her. But Ruthie just smiled again. She had truly found the secret of living life to the fullest, and nothing, not even death, could take that away.

She spoke, quietly now, with just a whisper. “You could pray that God would raise me from the dead, but the truth is, I’ve already been raised from the dead once. When we met Nicholas, and he introduced us to Jesus, I was raised from the dead and given a whole new life. From then on, I knew that I would live forever.”

With that, Ruthie passed through the veil and into the visible presence of God. The smile that adorned her face in life continued to shine on her face in death, and Dimitri knew where she was. She was just continuing to do what she had always done, walking and talking with Jesus, but now face to face.

Nicholas sat in silence as Dimitri told him the story, taking it all in. As much as he thought he would be sad, his heart began to soar instead. None of this was new to him, of course, but hearing about Ruthie’s faith brought his own back to life again as well.

You would think a man like Nicholas wouldn’t need to be encouraged in his faith. He had brought faith to countless others, and he was a bishop no less. But Nicholas also knew in his heart of hearts that it was people like him who sometimes needed the most encouragement in their faith. Great faith, he knew, did not come to those who have no doubts. Great faith came to those who have had their faith stretched so far that it had to grow, or else it would break completely. By continuing to trust God no matter what, Nicholas found that he was able to fill in any gaps in his faith along the way, helping it to grow even further.

As sad as he was for Ruthie’s passing, Nicholas couldn’t help but smile from deep down in his heart the same way that Ruthie must have done on the day that she died. He longed for the day when he could see Jesus face to face, just as Ruthie was now seeing Him. Yet he loved the work that God had given him on earth to do, too.

“We can’t lose, can we?” said Nicholas with a reflective smile. “Either we die and get to be with Jesus in heaven, or we live and get to continue His work here on earth. Either way we win, don’t we? Either way we win.”

“Yes, either way we win,” echoed Dimitri. “Either way we win.”

For the next several hours, Nicholas and Dimitri shared stories with each other of what God had done in their lives during their time apart. But nothing could have prepared Nicholas for what Dimitri was about to tell him next. For Dimitri, it seems, had met a girl. And not just any girl, but a girl Nicholas knew very well by now. Her name was Anna Maria.

CHAPTER 29 (Back to Table of Contents)

In his journey to find Nicholas, Dimitri looked for anyone who might know of his whereabouts. When he got to Myra, he went first to the church where Nicholas had served as bishop. Not finding him there, Dimitri took to the streets to see if he could find anyone who knew anything about him. And who did he find in the streets, but the very girl–now a woman–that Nicholas had found so many years ago, selling her braided flowers to anyone who would buy them.

She was no longer covered in the cloak of poverty. Both her inner and outer beauty were immediately evident to Dimitri. He was so taken by her that he couldn’t help but be drawn into a conversation. And she seemed to be just as taken by him. She couldn’t believe that a man of his stature and faith was willing to talk to her. He was, she thought, the kindest and most impressive man she had ever met.

When Dimitri mentioned his mission, searching for the bishop named Nicholas, Anna Maria gasped. How could this man, this stranger from the other side of the Great Sea, know anything about Nicholas? Dimitri shared the story of how they met, and Nicholas had rescued him from his poverty of faith. Anna Maria couldn’t help but share what Nicholas had done for her family as well, saving her two older sisters from slavery by throwing a bag of gold through the window for each of them on the eve of their 18th birthdays.

But then, Anna Maria’s smile faded. It was now only a few days until her own 18th birthday, but Nicholas had been taken away to prison five years earlier. No one had seen nor heard from him in all those years. She didn’t even know where he was. Although her father had had a change of heart, and wouldn’t dream of selling Anna Maria into slavery, he still had no dowry to offer to any potential suitor. Without a dowry, as Dimitri knew very well, Anna Maria’s future was dim. And with Nicholas in prison, there was no chance he would be able to rescue their family a third time. Anna Maria had taken again to selling her flowers in the street, and although they were more impressive than her earlier creations, she could barely earn enough from their sales to help the family with the cost of food from time to time.

Dimitri listened, and like Nicholas before him, he knew within minutes what God was prompting him to do. He could be the answer to Anna Maria’s prayers, and with much more than just a dowry. But he also knew that these things take time, so he just treasured these thoughts in his heart, buying a flower from Anna Maria, thanking her for sharing what she knew about Nicholas and continuing on his way, promising to get in touch with her if he ever located their precious friend.

On the eve of Anna Maria’s birthday, Dimitri found himself in the very spot where Nicholas had hidden twice before, years earlier, just outside the open window of Anna Maria’s home. The conversation inside was subdued, as Anna Maria and her father prayed, knowing that there was no way for Nicholas to appear again. They put out the lights and headed for bed.

Dimitri waited for what seemed to him like hours, knowing that he couldn’t dare wake them and risk exposing his plan. For he had saved up enough in his years of working in the Holy Land to easily fill a bag with golden coins suitable for a dowry. But he couldn’t just hand them the money, for he had more in mind than just giving them the dowry. He wanted Anna Maria’s father to give it back to him someday, as a wedding gift to him! It was a long shot, and he knew he would need more time to be sure she was the one for him. He also felt this was the best way to make it all work out in the end, even if she wasn’t the one for him. Something told him, however, that she was. And with that thought in mind, he made his next move.

Carefully and quietly, he reached over the windowsill and let the bag drop quietly down on the floor below. No one heard and no one stirred. Having done his duty to God and to his own heart, he set off again in search of Nicholas. Two weeks later, Dimitri had found Nicholas, and was now sharing with him the story of how he had met the woman of his dreams.

The news couldn’t have been any sweeter to Nicholas’ ears. And again his heart lightened and soared, for even though he was locked away from the rest of the world in his prison cell, Nicholas saw the fruit of his prayers–prayers that were answered in the most incredible way imaginable. He could still make a difference in the world, even from here in prison, even when the world tried to shut him down.

Before Dimitri left that night, he embraced Nicholas one more time; then he was gone. He disappeared through the prison door as miraculously as he had entered it.

It would be five more years until Nicholas would see Dimitri again. Diocletian’s grip continued to tighten around the Christians’ necks. But during all those remaining years in prison, Nicholas felt freer in his heart than he had ever felt before. No man could keep Nicholas from worshipping Jesus, and no man could keep Jesus from doing what He wanted done.

When the day finally came for Nicholas to be set free, the guard who opened Nicholas’ door looked in and said, “It’s time to go. You’re free.”

Nicholas simply looked at the guard with a smile. He had already been free for quite some time.

CHAPTER 30 (Back to Table of Contents)

Thinking Nicholas must not have heard him, the guard spoke again. “I said you’re free, you’re free to go. You can get up and go home now.”

At the word “home,” Nicholas stirred. He hadn’t seen his home, or his church, or hardly any other soul than Dimitri for ten years. He stood to his feet and his movements began to accelerate as he responded to the guard’s words.

“Home?” Nicholas said.

“Yes, home. You can go home now. The emperor has issued a decree that has set all Christians free.”

The emperor he was referring to was a new emperor named Constantine. Diocletian’s efforts had failed to constrain the Christians. Instead of quenching their spirits, Diocletian had strengthened them. Like Nicholas, those who weren’t killed grew stronger in their faith. And the stronger they grew in their faith, the stronger they grew in their influence, gaining new converts from the citizens around them. Even Diocletian’s wife and daughter had converted to Christianity.

Diocletian stepped down from ruling the empire, and Constantine stepped up.

Constantine reversed the persecution of the Christians, issuing the Edict of Milan. This edict showed a new tolerance for people of all religions and resulted in freedom for the Christians. Constantine’s mother, Helen, was a devout Christian herself. Even though no one quite knew if Constantine was a Christian, the new tolerance he displayed allowed people to worship whoever they pleased and however they pleased, the way it should have been all along.

As much as Diocletian had changed the Roman world for the worse, Constantine was now changing it for the better. Their reigns were as different as night and day and served as a testament of how one person really can affect the course of history forever–either for good or for evil.

Nicholas was aware, now more than ever, that he had just one life to live. But he was also aware that if he lived it right, one life was all that he would need. He resolved in his heart once more to do his best to make the most of every day, starting again today.

As he was led from his prison cell and returned to the city of Myra, it was no coincidence, he thought, that the first face he saw there was the face of Anna Maria.

He recognized her in an instant. But the ten years in prison, and the wear and tear it had taken on his life, made it hard for her to recognize him as quickly. But as soon as she saw his smile, she too knew in an instant that it was the smile of her dear old friend Nicholas. Of course it was Nicholas! And he was alive, standing right there in front of her!

She couldn’t move, she was so shocked. Two children stood beside her, looking up at their mother, and then looking at the man who now held her gaze. Here was the man who had done so much for her and her family. Her joy was uncontainable. With a call over her shoulder, Anna Maria shouted, “Dimitri! Dimitri! Come quickly! It’s Nicholas!”

Then she rushed towards Nicholas, giving him an embrace and holding on tight. Dimitri emerged from a shop behind them, took one look at Nicholas and Anna Maria and rushed towards them as well, sweeping his children up with him as he ran.

Now the whole family was embracing Nicholas as if he was a dear brother or father or uncle who had just returned from war. The tears and the smiles on their faces melted together. The man who had saved Anna Maria and her family from a fate worse than death had been spared from death as well! And Dimitri grinned from ear to ear, too, seeing his good friend, and seeing how happy it made Nicholas to see Dimitri and Anna Maria together with their new family.

Nicholas took hold of each of their faces–one at a time–and looked deeply into their eyes. Then he held the children close. The seeds he had planted years ago in the lives of Dimitri and Anna Maria were still bearing fruit, fruit he could now see with his own two eyes. All his efforts had been worth it, and nothing like the smiles on their faces could have made it any clearer to him than that.

Throughout the days and weeks ahead, Nicholas and the other believers who had been set free had many similar reunions throughout Myra. Those days were like one long, ongoing reunion.

Nicholas, as well as the others who had managed to survive the Great Persecution, must have appeared to those around them as Lazarus must have appeared, when Jesus called him to come out of the tomb–a man who had died, but was now alive. And like Lazarus, these Christians were not only alive, but they led many more people to faith in Christ as well, for their faith was now on fire in a whole new way. What Diocletian had meant for harm, God was able to use for good. This new contingent of Christians had emerged with a faith that was stronger than ever before.

Nicholas knew that this new level of faith, like all good gifts from God, had been given to him for a purpose, too. For as big as the tests had been that Nicholas had faced up to now, God was preparing him for the biggest test yet to come.

PART 6

Listen to Part 6 here (34 minutes, including Chapters 31-36)

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric and Lana Elder

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

CHAPTER 31 (Back to Table of Contents)

“And you’ve still never told her, after all these years?” Nicholas asked Dimitri. It had been twelve years since Nicholas had gotten out of prison, and they were talking about the bag of gold that Dimitri had thrown into Anna Maria’s open window five years before that.

“She’s never asked,” said Dimitri. “And even if I told her it was me, she wouldn’t believe me. She’s convinced you did it.”

“But how could I, when she knew I was in prison?” It was a conversation they had had before, but Nicholas still found it astounding. Dimitri insisted on keeping his act of giving a secret, just as Nicholas had done whenever possible, too.

“Besides,” added Dimitri, “she’s right. It really was you who inspired me to give her that gift, as you had already given her family two bags of gold in a similar way. So in a very real sense, it did come from you.”

Nicholas had to admit there was some logic in Dimitri’s thinking. “But it didn’t start with me, either. It was Christ who inspired me.”

And to that, Dimitri conceded and said, “And it was Christ who inspired me, too. Believe me, Anna Maria knows that as much as anyone else. Her faith is deeper than ever before. Ever since she met you, she continues to give God credit for all things.”

And with that, Nicholas was satisfied, as long as God got the credit in the end. For as Nicholas had taught Dimitri years earlier, there’s nothing we have that did not come from God first.

Changing subjects, Nicholas said, “You’re sure she won’t mind you being away for three months? I can still find someone else to accompany me.”

“She’s completely and utterly happy for me to go with you,” said Dimitri. “She knows how important this is to you, and she knows how much it means to me as well. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

They were discussing their plans to go to the Council of Nicaea that summer. Nicholas had been invited by special request of the emperor, and each bishop was allowed to bring a personal attendant along with him. Nicholas asked Dimitri as soon as he received the invitation.

The Council of Nicaea would be a remarkable event. When Nicholas first opened the letter inviting him to come, he couldn’t believe it. So much had changed in the world since he had gotten out of prison twelve years earlier.

Yet there it was, a summons from the Roman emperor to appear before him at Eastertide. The only summons a bishop would have gotten under Emperor Diocletian would have been an invitation to an execution–his own! But under Constantine’s leadership, life for Christians had radically changed.

Constantine had not only signed the edict that called for true tolerance to be shown to the Christians, which resulted in setting them free from prison, but he also had started giving them their property back–property which had been taken away under his predecessor. Constantine was even beginning to fund the building and repair of many of the churches that had been destroyed by Diocletian. It was the beginning of a new wave of grace for the Christians, after such an intense persecution before.

As a further sign of Constantine’s new support for the cause of Christianity, he had called for a gathering of over 300 of the leading bishops in the land. This gathering would serve two purposes for Constantine: it would unify the church within the previously fractured empire, and it wouldn’t hurt his hopes of bringing unity back to the whole country. As the leader of the people, Constantine asserted that it was his responsibility to provide for their spiritual well-being. As such, he pledged to attend and preside over this historic council himself. It would take place in the city of Nicaea, starting in the spring of that year and continuing for several months into the summer.

When Nicholas received his invitation, he quietly praised God for the changing direction of his world. While the Great Persecution had deepened the faith of many of those who survived it, that same persecution had taken its toll on the ability of many others, severely limiting their ability to teach, preach and reach those around them with the life-changing message of Christ.

Now those barriers had been removedwith the support and approval of the emperor himself. The only barriers that remained were within the hearts and minds of those who would hear the good news, and would have to decide for themselves what they were going to do with it.

As for Nicholas, he had grown in influence and respect in Myra, as well as the region around him. His great wealth was long since gone, for he had given most of it away when he saw the Great Persecution coming, and what remained had been discovered and ransacked while he was in prison. But what he lost in wealth he made up for in influence, for his heart and actions were still bent towards giving–no matter what he had or didn’t have to give. After giving so much of himself to the people around him, he was naturally among those who were chosen to attend the upcoming council. It would turn out to become one of the most momentous events in history, not to mention one of the most memorable events in his own life–but not necessarily for a reason he would want to remember.

CHAPTER 32 (Back to Table of Contents)

Although Christians were enjoying a new kind of freedom under Constantine, the future of Christianity was still at risk. The threats no longer came from outside the church, but from within. Factions had begun to rise inside the ranks of the growing church, with intense discussions surrounding various theological points which had very practical implications.

In particular, a very small but vocal group, led by a man named Arius, had started to gain attention as they began to question whether Jesus was actually divine or not.

Was Jesus merely a man? Or was He, in fact, one with God in His very essence? To men like Nicholas and Dimitri, the question was hardly debatable, for they had devoted their entire lives to following Jesus as their Lord. They had risked everything to follow Him in word and deed. He was their Lord, their Savior, their Light and their Hope. Like many of the others who would be attending the council, it was not their robes or outer garments that bore witness to their faith in Christ, but the scars and wounds they bore in their flesh as they suffered for Him. They had risked their lives under the threat of death for worshipping Christ as divine, rather than Emperor Diocletian. There was no question in their minds regarding this issue. But still there were some who, like Arius, felt this was a question that was up for debate.

In Arius’ zeal to see that people worshipped God alone, Arius could not conceive that any man, even one as good as Jesus, could claim to be one with God without blaspheming the name of God Himself. In this, Arius was not unlike those who persecuted Jesus while He was still alive. Even some of those who were living then and had witnessed His miracles with their own eyes, and heard Jesus’ words with their own ears, could not grasp that Jesus could possibly be telling the truth when He said, “I and the Father are one.” And for this, they brought Jesus to Herod, and then to Pilate, to have Him crucified.

As a boy, Nicholas had wondered about Jesus’ claim, too. But when Nicholas was in Bethlehem, it all finally made perfect sense to him–that God Himself had come down from heaven to earth as a man to take on the sins of the world once and for all as God in the flesh.

Arius, however, was like the Apostle Paul before he met the Jesus on the road to Damascus. Before his life-changing experience, the Apostle Paul wanted to protect what he felt to be the divinity of God by persecuting anyone who said they worshipped Jesus as God. For no man, according to Paul’s earlier way of thinking, could possibly consider himself to be one with God.

Like Arius, Paul could not believe the claims of Jesus and His followers. But on the road to Damascus, as Paul was on his way to round up and kill more Christians in his zeal, Paul met the Living Christ in a vision that blinded him physically, but awakened him spiritually to the Truth. In the days that followed, Paul’s physical eyes were healed and he repented of his misguided efforts. He was baptized in Jesus’ name and began to preach from then on that Jesus was not merely a man, but that Jesus’ claims about Himself to be one with the Father were completely true. Paul gave his life in worship and service to Christ, and had to endure, like Nicholas had to endure, imprisonment and an ever-present threat of death for his faith.

Arius was more like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who, in their zeal to defend God, actually crucified the Lord of all creation. Arius felt justified in trying to gather support among the bishops for his position.

Nicholas and Dimitri didn’t think Arius’ ideas could possibly gather many supporters. Yet they would soon find out that Arius’ personal charisma and his excellent oratorial skills might actually hold sway over some of the bishops who had not yet given the idea nor its implications full consideration.

Nicholas and Dimitri, however, like the Apostle Paul, the Apostle John and tens of thousands of others in the time since Jesus lived and died and rose again from the dead, had discovered that Jesus was, thankfully and supernaturally, both fully human and fully divine.

But what would the rest of the bishops conclude? And what would they teach as truth to others for the countless generations to come? This was to become one of the pivotal questions that was to be determined at this meeting in Nicaea. Although Nicholas was interested in this debate, he had no idea that he was about to play a key role in its outcome.

CHAPTER 33 (Back to Table of Contents)

After a grand processional of bishops and priests, a boys’ choir and Constantine’s opening words, one of the first topics addressed at the council was the one brought forth by Arius–whether or not Jesus Christ was divine.

Arius made his opening arguments with great eloquence and great persuasion in the presence of Constantine and the rest of the assembly. Jesus was, he asserted, perhaps the foremost of all created beings. But to be co-equal with God, one in substance and essence with Him, was impossible–at least according to Arius. No one could be one with God, he said.

Nicholas listened in silence, along with every other bishop in that immense room. Respect for the speaker, especially in the presence of the emperor, took precedence over any type of muttering or disturbance that might accompany other types of gatherings like this, especially on a subject of such intensity. But the longer Arius spoke, the harder it became for Nicholas to sit in silence.

After all, Nicholas’ parents had given their lives for the honor of serving Christ their Lord. Nicholas himself had been overwhelmed by the presence of God in Bethlehem, at the very spot where God made His first appearance as Man in the flesh. Dimitri, Samuel and Ruthie had all been similarly affected by that visit to Bethlehem. They had walked up the hill in Jerusalem where the King of kings had been put to death by religious leadersleaders who, like Arius, doubted Jesus’ claims to be one with God.

Nicholas had always realized that Jesus was unlike any other man who had ever lived. And after Jesus died, He had risen from the dead, appeared to the twelve disciples and then appeared to more than 500 others who were living in Jerusalem at the time. What kind of man could do that? Was it just a mass hallucination? Was it just wishful thinking on the part of religious fanatics? But these weren’t just fans, they were followers who were willing to give up their lives, too, for their Lord and Savior.

The arguments continued to run through Nicholas’ head. Hadn’t the prophet Micah foretold, hundreds of years before Jesus was born, that the Messiah would be “from of old, from ancient times”? Hadn’t the Apostle John said that Jesus “was with God in the beginning,” concluding that Jesus “was God.”

Like others had tried to suggest, Arius said that Jesus had never claimed to be God. But Nicholas knew the Scriptures well enough to know that Jesus had said, “I and the Father are one. Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father… Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in Me?”

Even Jesus’ detractors at the time that He was living said that the reason they wanted to stone Jesus was because Jesus claimed to be God. The Scriptures said that these detractors cornered Jesus one day and Jesus said, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”

They replied, “We are not stoning you for any of these, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

Jesus had certainly claimed to be God, a claim that got Him into hot water more than once. His claim showed that He was either a madman or a liar–or that He was telling the Truth.

Nicholas’ mind flooded with Scriptures like these, as well as with memories of the years he had spent in prisonyears he would never get back again–all because he was unwilling to worship Diocletian as a god, but was fully willing to worship Jesus as God. How could Nicholas remain silent and let Arius go on like this? How could anyone else in the room take it, he thought? Nicholas had no idea.

“There was nothing divine about him,” Arius said with conviction. “He was just a man, just like any one of us.”

Without warning, and without another moment to think about what he was doing, Nicholas stood to his feet. Then his feet, as if they had a mind of their own, began to walk deliberately and intently across the massive hall towards Arius. Arius continued talking until Nicholas finally stood directly in front of him.

Arius stopped. This breach of protocol was unprecedented.

In the silence that followed, Nicholas turned his back towards Arius and pulled down the robes from his own back, revealing the hideous scars he had gotten while in prison. Nicholas said, “I didn’t get these for just a man.'”

Turning back towards Arius and facing him squarely, Nicholas saw the smug smile return to Arius’ face. Arius said, “Well, it looks like you were mistaken.” Then Arius started up his speech again as if nothing at all had happened.

That’s when Nicholas did the unthinkable. With no other thought than to stop this man from speaking against his Lord and Savior, and in plain site of the emperor and everyone else in attendance, Nicholas clenched his fist. He pulled back his arm and he punched Arius hard in the face.

Arius stumbled and fell back, both from the impact of the blow and from the shock that came with it. Nicholas, too, was stunned–along with everyone else in the room. With the same deliberate and intentional steps which he had taken to walk up to Arius, Nicholas now walked back to his chair and took his seat.

A collective gasp echoed through the hall when Nicholas struck Arius, followed by an eruption of commotion when Nicholas sat back down in his seat. The disruption threatened to throw the entire proceedings into chaos. The vast majority of those in the room looked like they could have jumped to their feet and given Nicholas a standing ovation for this bold act–including, by the look on his face, even the emperor himself! But to others, Arius chief among them, no words nor displays of emotion could express their outrage. Everyone knew what an awful offense Nicholas had just committed. It was, in fact, illegal for anyone to use violence of any kind in the presence of the emperor. The punishment for such an act was to immediately cut off the hand of anyone who struck another person in the presence of the emperor.

Constantine knew the law, of course, but also knew Nicholas. He had once even had a dream about Nicholas in which Nicholas warned Constantine to grant a stay of execution to three men in Constantine’s court–a warning which Constantine heeded and acted upon in real life. When Constantine shared that dream with one of his generals, the general recounted to Constantine what Nicholas had done for the three innocent men back in Myra, for the general was one of the three who had seen Nicholas’ bravery in person.

Although Nicholas’ actions against Arius may have appeared rash, Constantine admired Nicholas’ pluck. Known for his quick thinking and fast action, Constantine raised his hand and brought an instant silence to the room as he did so. “This is certainly a surprise to us all,” he said. “And while the penalty for an act such in my presence is clear, I would prefer to defer this matter to the leaders of the council instead. These are your proceedings and I will defer to your wisdom to conduct them as you see fit.”

Constantine had bought both time and goodwill among the various factions. The council on the whole seemed to agree with Nicholas’ position, at least in spirit, even if they could not agree with his rash action. They would want to exact some form of punishment, since not to do so would fail to honor the rule of law. But having been given permission by the emperor himself to do as they saw fit, rather than invoke the standard punishment, they felt the freedom to take another form of action.

After a short deliberation, the leaders of the council agreed and determined that Nicholas should be defrocked immediately from his position as a bishop, banished from taking part in the rest of the proceedings in Nicaea and held under house arrest within the palace complex. There he could await any further decision the council might see fit at the conclusion of their meetings that summer. It was a lenient sentence, in light of the offense.

But for Nicholas, even before he heard what the punishment was going to be, he was already punishing himself more than anyone else ever could for what he had just done. Within less than a minute, he had gone from experiencing one of the highest mountaintops of his life to experiencing one of its deepest valleys.

Here he was attending one of the greatest conclaves in the history of the world, and yet he had just done something he knew he could never take back. The ramifications of his actions would affect him for the rest of his life, he was sure of it, or at least for whatever remained of his life. The sensation he felt could only be understood, perhaps, by those who had experienced it before–the weight, the shame and the agony of a moment of sin that could have crushed him, apart from knowing the forgiveness of Christ.

When Nicholas was defrocked of his title as bishop, it was in front of the entire assembly. He was disrobed of his bishop’s garments, then escorted from the room in shackles. But this kind of disgrace was a mere trifle compared to the humiliation he was experiencing on the inside. He was even too numb to cry.

CHAPTER 34 (Back to Table of Contents)

“What have I done?” Nicholas said to Dimitri as the two sat together in a room near the farthest corner of the palace. This room had become Nicholas’ make-shift prison cell, as he was to be held under house arrest for the remainder of the proceedings. Dimitri, using his now-extensive skills at gaining access to otherwise unauthorized areas, had once again found a way to visit his friend in prison.

“What have you done?!? What else could you have done?” countered Dimitri. “If you hadn’t done it, someone else surely would have, or at least should have. You did Arius, and all the rest of us, a favor with that punch. Had he continued with his diatribe, who knows what punishment the Lord Himself might have brought down upon the entire gathering!” Of course, Dimitri knew God could take it, and often does, when people rail against Him and His ways. He is much more long-suffering than any of us could ever be. But still, Dimitri felt Nicholas’ actions were truly justified.

Nicholas, however, could hardly see it that way at the moment. It was more likely, he thought, that he had just succeeded in giving Arius the sympathy he needed for his cause to win. Nicholas knew that when people are losing an argument based on logic, they often appeal to pure emotion instead, going straight for the hearts of their listeners, whether or not their cause makes sense. And as much as Arius may have been losing his audience on the grounds of logic, Nicholas felt that his actions may have just tipped the emotional scales in Arius’ favor.

The torment of it all beat against Nicholas’ mind. Here it was, still just the opening days of the proceedings, and he would have to sit under house arrest for the next two months. How was he going to survive this onslaught of emotions every day during that time?

Nicholas already knew this prison cell was going to be entirely different than the one in which Diocletian had put him for more than a decade. This time, he felt he had put himself in jail. And although this prison was a beautifully appointed room within a palace, to Nicholas’ way of thinking, it was much worse than the filthy one in which he had almost died.

In the other cell, he knew he was there because of the misguided actions of others. This gave him a sense that what he had to endure there was part of the natural suffering that Jesus said would come to all who followed Him. But in this cell, he knew he was there because of his own inane actions, actions which he viewed as inexcusable, a viewpoint which he felt many of those in attendance would rightly share.

For decades Nicholas had been known as a man of calm, inner strength and of dignity under control. Then, in one day, he had lost it alland in front of the emperor no less! How could he ever forgive himself. “How,” he asked Dimitri, “could I ever take back what I’ve just done to the name of the Lord.”

Dimitri replied, “Perhaps He doesn’t want you to take it back. Maybe it wasn’t what you think you did to His name that He cares about so much, as what you did in His name. You certainly did what I, and the vast majority of those in the room wished they would have done, had they had the courage to do so.”

Dimitri’s words lingered in the air. As Nicholas contemplated them, a faint smile seemed to appear on his face. Perhaps there was something to be said for his heart in the matter after all. He was sincerely wanting to honor and defend his Lord, not to detract from Him in any way. Peter, he remembered, had a similar passion for defending his Lord. And Nicholas now realized what Peter may have felt when Peter cut off the ear of one of the men who had come to capture Jesus. Jesus told Peter to put away his sword and then Jesus healed the man’s ear. Jesus could obviously defend Himself quite well on His own, but Nicholas had to give Peter credit for his passionate defense of his Master.

Nicholas was still unconvinced that he had done the right thing, but he felt in good company with others who had acted on their passions. And Dimitri’s words helped him to realize that he was not alone in his thinking, and he took some comfort from the fact that Dimitri hadn’t completely forsaken him over the incident. This support from Dimitri acted like a soothing balm to Nicholas’ soul, and helped him to get through yet one more of the darkest times of his life.

Although Nicholas was convinced that the damage he had done was irreversible in human terms–and that God was going to have to work time-and-a-half to make anything good come out of this one–Nicholas knew what he had to do. Even in this moment of his deepest humiliation, he knew the best thing he could do was to do what he had always done: to put his complete faith and trust in God. But how? How could he trust that God possibly use this for good?

As if reading Nicholas’ mind, Dimitri knew exactly what Nicholas needed to help him put his trust back in God again. Dimitri did what Nicholas had done for him and Samuel and Ruthie so many years ago. Dimitri told him a story.

CHAPTER 35 (Back to Table of Contents)

Dimitri began, “What kind of story would you like to hear today? A good story or a bad story?” It was the way Nicholas had introduced the Bible stories that he told to Dimitri, Samuel and Ruthie during their many adventures in the Holy Land. Nicholas would then begin delighting the children with a story from the Bible about a good character or a bad character, or a good story or a bad story, sometimes which ended the exact opposite way it began.

Nicholas looked up with interest.

“It doesn’t matter,” Dimitri continued, “because the story I have to tell you today could be either good or bad. You just won’t know till the end. But I’ve learned from a good friend,” he said as he winked at Nicholas, “that the best way to enjoy a story is to always trust the storyteller.”

Nicholas had told them that he watched people’s reactions whenever he told stories back home.

“When people trust the storyteller,” Nicholas had said, “they love the story no matter what happens, because they know the storyteller knows how the story will end. But when people don’t trust the storyteller, their emotions go up and down like a boat in a storm, depending on what’s happening in the story. The truth is, only the storyteller knows for sure how the story will end. So as long as you trust the storyteller, you can enjoy the whole story from start to finish.”

Now it was Dimitri’s turn to tell a story to Nicholas. The story he chose to tell was about another man who had been sent to jail, a man by the name of Joseph. Dimitri recounted for Nicholas how Joseph’s life appeared to go up and down.

Dimitri started: “Joseph’s father loved Joseph and gave him a beautiful, colorful coat. Now that’s good, right?”

Nicholas nodded.

“But no, that was bad, for Joseph’s brothers saw the coat and were jealous of him and sold him into slavery. Now that’s bad, right?”

Nicholas nodded.

“No, that was good, because Joseph was put in charge of the whole house of a very wealthy man. Now that’s good, right?”

Nicholas nodded again.

“No, that’s bad,” said Dimitri, “because the wealthy man’s wife tried to seduce him, and when Joseph resisted, she sent him to jail. Now that’s bad, right?”

Nicholas stopped nodding either way because he knew where this was going.

“No, that’s good,” said Dimitri, “because Joseph was put in charge over all the other prisoners. He even helped to interpret their dreams. Now that’s good, right?”

Nicholas continued to listen carefully.

“No, that’s bad, because after interpreting their dreams, Joseph asked one of the men to help him out of prison when he got out, but the man forgot about Joseph and left him behind. Now that’s bad, right?”

Nicholas saw himself as the man who had been left behind in prison.

“No! That’s good! Because God had put Joseph in just the right place at just the right time. When the king of Egypt had a dream and he needed someone to interpret it, the man who had been set free suddenly remembered that Joseph was still in jail and told the king about him.

The king summoned Joseph, asked for an interpretation and Joseph gave it to him. The king was so impressed with Joseph that he put Joseph in charge of his whole kingdom. As a result, Joseph was able to use his new position to save hundreds of thousands of lives, including the lives of his own father and even his brothersthe very ones who had sold him into slavery in the first place. And that’s very good!”

“So you see,” said Dimitri, “just as you’ve always told us, we never know how the story will turn out until the very end. God knew what He was doing all along! You see…

– at just the right time, Joseph was born and his father loved him,
– so that at just the right time his brothers would mistreat him,
– so that at just the right time the slave traders would come along and buy him,
– so that at just the right time he would be put in charge of a wealthy man’s house,
– so that at just the right time he would be thrown into jail,
– so that at just the right time he would be put in charge of the prisoners,
– so that at just the right time he could interpret their dreams,
– so that at just the right time he could interpret Pharaoh’s dreams,
– so that at just the right time he would become second in command over all of Egypt,
– so that at just the right time Joseph would be in the one place in the world that God wanted him to be so that he could save the lives of his father and brothers and many, many others!

“All along the way, Joseph never gave up on God. He knew the secret of enjoying the story while he lived it out: he always trusted the Storyteller, the One who was writing the story of his life.”

All of Nicholas’ fears and doubts faded away in those moments and he knew he could trust the Storyteller, the One who was writing the story of his life, too. Nicholas’ story wasn’t over yet, and he had to trust that the God who brought him this far could see him through to the end.

Nicholas looked at Dimitri with a smile of thanks, then closed his eyes. It would be a long two months of waiting for the council’s decision. But he knew that if he could trust God in that one moment, and then in the next moment, and then the next, each of those moments would add up to minutes, and minutes would add up to hours. Hours would turn into weeks, then months, then years. He knew that it all began with trusting God in a moment.

With his eyes still closed, Nicholas put his full faith and trust in God again. The peace of God flooded his heart.

Soon, two months had passed by. The council was ready to make their final decisions on many matters, including the decision that had landed Nicholas under house arrest in the first placeand Nicholas was about to find out the results.

CHAPTER 36 (Back to Table of Contents)

“They did it!” It was Dimitri, bursting through the door to Nicholas’ room as soon as the palace guard had opened it.

“They did it!” he repeated. “It’s done! The council has voted and they’ve agreed with you! All but two of the 318 bishops have sided with you over Arius!”

Relief swept over Nicholas’ whole body. Dimitri could feel it in his body, too, as he watched the news flood over Nicholas’ entire being.

“And furthermore,” said Dimitri, “the council has decided not to take any further action against you!”

Both pieces of news were the best possible outcome Nicholas could have imagined. Even though Nicholas’ action had cost him his position as a bishop, it had not jeopardized the outcome of the proceedings. It was even possiblethough he never knew for surethat his action against Arius had perhaps in some way shaped what took place during those summer months at that historic council.

Within minutes of Dimitri’s arrival, another visitor appeared at Nicholas’ door. It was Constantine.

The council’s decision about what to do with Nicholas was one thing, but Constantine’s decision was another. A fresh wave of fear washed over Nicholas as he thought of the possibilities.

“Nicholas,” said the emperor, “I wanted to personally thank you for coming here to be my guest in Nicaea. I want to apologize for what you’ve had to endure these past two months. This wasn’t what I had planned for you and I’m sure it wasn’t what you had planned, either. But even though you weren’t able to attend the rest of the proceedings, I assure you that your presence was felt throughout every meeting. What you did that day in the hall spoke to me about what it means to follow Christ more than anything else I heard in the days that followed. I’d like to hear more from you in the future, if you would be willing to be my guest again. But next time, it won’t be in the farthest corner of the palace. Furthermore, I have asked for and received permission from the council to reinstate you to your position as Bishop of Myra. I believe the One who called you to serve Him would want you to continue doing everything you’ve been doing up to this point. As for me, let me just say that I appreciate what you’ve done here more than you can possibly know. Thank you for coming, and whenever you’re ready, you’re free to go home.”

Nicholas had been listening to Constantine’s words as if he were in a dream. He could hardly believe his ears. But when the emperor said the word “home,” Nicholas knew this wasn’t a dream, and the word rang like the sweetest bell in Nicholas’ ears. Of all the words the emperor had just spoken, none sounded better to him than that final word: home. He wanted nothing more than to get back to the flock he served. It was for them that he had come to this important gathering in the first place, to ensure that the Truths he had taught them would continue to be taught throughout the land.

After more than two months of being separated from them, and the ongoing question of what would become of them and the hundreds of thousands of others like them in the future who would be affected by their decisions here, Nicholas could finally go home. He was free again in more ways than one.

PART 7

Listen to Part 6 here (20 minutes, including Chapters 37, the Epilogue and the Conclusion)

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric and Lana Elder

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

CHAPTER 37 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas stood at his favorite spot in the world one last time: by the sea. Eighteen years had passed since he had retuned to Myra from the council in Nicaea. In the days since coming home, he continued to serve the Lord as he had always done: with all his heart, soul, mind and strength.

Nicholas had come to the shore with Dimitri and Anna Maria, who had brought with them one of their grandchildren, a young girl seven years old, named Ruthie.

Ruthie had been running back and forth in the waves, as Dimitri and Anna Maria tried to keep up with her. Nicholas had plenty of time to look out over the sea and as he often did, look out over eternity as well.

Looking back on his life, Nicholas never knew if he really accomplished what he wanted to in life: to make a difference in the world. He had seen glimpses along the way, of course, in the lives of people like Dimitri, Samuel, Ruthie, Sophia, Cecilia and Anna Maria.

He had also learned from people like the ship’s captain that when the captain arrived in Rome, his ship miraculously weighed exactly the same as before he had set sail from Alexandriaeven after giving the people of Myra several years’ worth of grain from it. Reminders like these encouraged Nicholas that God really had been guiding him in his decisions.

He still had questions though. He never quite knew if he had done the right thing at the council in Nicaea. He never quite knew if his later private conversations with Constantine might have impacted the emperor’s personal faith in Christ.

He was encouraged, however, to learn that Constantine’s mother had also made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land just as Nicholas had done. And after her visit, she persuaded Constantine to build churches over the holy sites she had seen. She had recently completed building a church in Bethlehem over the spot where Jesus was born, as well as a church in Jerusalem over the spot where Jesus had died and risen from the dead.

Nicholas knew he had had both successes and mistakes in his life. But looking back over it, he couldn’t always tell which was which! Those times that he thought were the valleys turned out to be the mountaintops, and the mountaintops turned out to be valleys. But the most important thing, he reminded himself, was that he trusted God in all things, knowing that God could work anything for good for those who loved Him, who were called according to His purpose.

What the future held for the world, Nicholas had no idea. But he knew that he had done what he could with the time that he had. He tried to love God and love others as Jesus had called him to do. And where he had failed along the way, he trusted that Jesus could cover those failures, too, just as Jesus had covered his sins by dying on the cross.

As Nicholas’ father had done before him, Nicholas looked out over the sea again, too. Then closing his eyes, he asked God for strength for the next journey he was about to take.

He let the sun warm his face, then he opened the palms of his hands and let the breeze lift them into the air. He praised God as the warm breeze floated gently through his fingertips.

Little Ruthie returned from splashing in the water, followed closely by Dimitri and Anna Maria. Ruthie looked up at Nicholas, with his eyes closed and his hands raised towards heaven. Reaching out to him, she tugged at his clothes and asked, “Nicholas, have you ever seen God?”

Nicholas opened his eyes and looked down at Ruthie, then smiled up at Dimitri and Anna Maria. He looked out at the sunshine and the waves and the miles and miles of shoreline that stretched out in both directions before him. Turning his face back towards Ruthie, Nicholas said, “Yes, Ruthie, I have see God. And the older I get, the more I see Him everywhere I look.”

Ruthie smiled, and Nicholas gave her a warm hug. Then just as quickly as she had run up to him, she ran off again to play.

Nicholas exchanged smiles with Dimitri and Anna Maria, then they, too, were off again, chasing Ruthie down the beach.

Nicholas looked one last time at the beautiful sea, then turned and headed towards home.

EPILOGUE (Back to Table of Contents)

So now you know a little bit more about me–Dimitri Alexander–and my good friend, Nicholas. That was the last time I saw him, until this morning. He had asked if he could spend a few days alone, just him and the Lord that he loved. He said he had one more journey to prepare for. Anna Maria and I guessed, of course, just what he meant.

We knew he was probably getting ready to go home, to his real home, the one that Jesus had said He was going to prepare for each of us who believe in Him.

Nicholas had been looking forward to this trip his whole life. Not that he wanted to shortchange a single moment of the life that God that had given him here on earth, for he knew that this life had a uniquely important purpose as well, or else God would never have created it with such beauty and precision and marvelous mystery.

But as Nicholas’ life here on earth wound down, he said he was ready. He was ready to go, and he looked forward to everything that God had in store for him next.

So when Nicholas sent word this morning for Anna Maria and me and a few other friends to come and see him, we knew that the time had come.

As we came into this room, we found him lying on his bed, just as he is right now. He was breathing quietly and he motioned for us to come close. We couldn’t hold back our tears, and he didn’t try to stop us. He knew how hard it was to say goodbye to those we love. But he also made it easier for us. He smiled one more time and spoke softly, saying the same words that he had spoken when Ruthie had died many years before: “Either way we win,” he said. “Either way we win.”

“Yes, Nicholas,” I said. “Either way we win.” Then the room became quiet again. Nicholas closed his eyes and fell asleep for the last time. No one moved. No one said a word.

This man who lay before us slept as if it were just another night in his life. But we knew this was a holy moment. Nicholas had just entered into the presence of the Lord. As Nicholas had done throughout his life, we were sure he was doing right now in heaven, walking and talking and laughing with Jesus, but now they were face to face.

We could only imagine what Nicholas might be saying to Jesus. But we knew for certain what Jesus was saying to him: “Well done, My good and faithful servant. Well done. Come and share your Master’s happiness.”

I have no idea how history might remember Nicholas, if it will remember him at all. He was no emperor like Constantine. He was no tyrant like Diocletian. He was no orator like Arius. He was simply a Christian trying to live out his faith, touching one life at a time as best he knew how.

Nicholas may have wondered if his life made any difference. I know my answer, and now that you know his story, I’ll let you decide for yourself. In the end, I suppose only God really knows just how many lives were touched by this remarkable man.

But what I do know this: each of us has just one life to live. But if we live it right, as Nicholas did, one life is all we need.

CONCLUSION (Back to Table of Contents)

by Eric Elder

What Nicholas didn’t know, and what no one who knew him could have possibly imagined, was just how far and wide this one life would reach–not only throughout the world, but also throughout the ages.

He was known to his parents as their beloved son, and to those in his city as their beloved bishop. But he has become known to us by another name: Saint Nicholas.

The biblical word for “saint” literally means “believer.” The Bible talks about the saints in Ephesus, the saints in Rome, the saints in Philippi and the saints in Jerusalem. Each time the word saints refers to the believers who were in those cities. So Nicholas rightly became known as “Saint Nicholas,” or to say it another way, “Nicholas, The Believer.” The Latin translation is “Santa Nicholas,” and in Dutch “Sinterklaas,” from which we get the name “Santa Claus.”

His good name and his good deeds have been an inspiration to so many, that the day he passed from this life to the next, on December 6th, 343 A.D., is still celebrated by people throughout the world.

Many legends have been told about Nicholas over the years, some giving him qualities that make him seem larger than life. But the reason that so many legends of any kind grow, including those told about Saint Nicholas, is often because the people about whom they’re told were larger than life themselves. They were people who were so good or so well-respected that every good deed becomes attributed to them, as if they had done them themselves.

While not all the stories attributed to Nicholas can be traced to the earliest records of his life, the histories that were recorded closest to the time period in which he lived do record many of the stories found in this book. To help you sort through them, here’s what we do know:

  • Nicholas was born sometime between 260-280 A.D. in the city of Patara, a city you can still visit today in modern-day Turkey, on the northern coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Nicholas’ parents were devout Christians who died in a plague when Nicholas was young, leaving him with a sizable inheritance.
  • Nicholas made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and lived there for a number of years before returning to his home province of Lycia.
  • Nicholas traveled across the Mediterranean Sea in a ship that was caught in a storm. After praying, his ship reached its destination as if someone was miraculously holding the rudder steady. The rudder of a ship is also called a tiller, and sailors on the Mediterranean Sea today still wish each other luck by saying, “May Nicholas hold the tiller!”
  • When Nicholas returned from the Holy Land, he took up residence in the city of Myra, about 30 miles from his hometown of Patara. Nicholas became the bishop of Myra and lived there the rest of his life.
  • Nicholas secretly gave three gifts of gold on three separate occasions to a man whose daughters were to be sold into slavery because he had no money to offer to potential husbands as a dowry. The family discovered Nicholas was the mysterious donor on one of his attempts, which is why we know the story today. In this version of the story, we’ve added the twist of having Nicholas deliver the first two gifts, and Dimitri deliver the third, to capture the idea that many gifts were given back then, and are still given today, in the name of Saint Nicholas, who was known for such deeds. The theme of redemption is also so closely associated with this story from Saint Nicholas’ life, that if you pass by a pawn shop today, you will often see three golden balls in their logo, representing the three bags of gold that Nicholas gave to spare these girls from their unfortunate fate.
  • Nicholas pled for the lives of three innocent men who were unjustly condemned to death by a magistrate in Myra, taking the sword directly from the executioner’s hand.
  • “Nicholas, Bishop of Myra” is listed on some, but not all, of the historical documents which record those who attended the real Council of Nicaea, which was convened by Emperor Constantine in 325 A.D. One of the council’s main decisions addressed the divinity of Christ, resulting in the writing of the Nicene Creed–a creed which is still recited in many churches today. Some historians say that Nicholas’ name does not appear on all the record books of this council because of his banishment from the proceedings after striking Arius for denying that Christ was divine. Nicholas is, however, listed on at least five of these ancient record books, including the earliest known Greek manuscript of the event.
  • The Nicene Creed was adopted at the Council of Nicaea and has become one of the most widely used, brief statements of the Christian faith. The original version reads, in part, as translated from the Greek: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth; Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; He suffered, and the third day He rose again, ascended into heaven; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead…” Subsequent versions, beginning as early as 381 A.D., have altered and clarified some of the original statements, resulting in a few similar, but not quite identical statements that are now in use.
  • Nicholas is recorded as having done much for the people of Myra, including securing grain from a ship traveling from Alexandria to Rome, which saved the people in that region from a famine.
  • Constantine’s mother, Helen, did visit the Holy Land and encouraged Constantine to build churches over the sites that she felt were most important to the Christian faith. The churches were built on the locations she had been shown by local believers where Jesus was born, and where Jesus died and rose again. Those churches, The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, have been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the years, but still in the same locations that Constantine’s mother, and likely Nicholas himself, had seen.
  • The date of Nicholas’ death has been established as December 6th, 343 A.D., and you can still visit his tomb in the modern city of Demre, Turkey, formerly known as Myra, in the province of Lycia. Nicholas’ bones were removed from the tomb in 1087 A.D. by men from Italy who feared that they might be destroyed or stolen, as the country was being invaded by others. The bones of Saint Nicholas were taken to the city of Bari, Italy, where they are still entombed today.

Of the many other stories told about or attributed to Nicholas, it’s hard to know with certainty which ones actually took place and which were simply attributed to him because of his already good and popular name. For instance, in the 12th century, stories began to surface of how Nicholas had brought three children back to life who had been brutally murdered. Even though the first recorded accounts of this story didn’t appear until more than 800 years after Nicholas’ death, this story is one of the most frequently associated with Saint Nicholas in religious artwork, featuring three young children being raised to life and standing next to Nicholas. We have included the essence of this story in this novel in the form of the three orphans who Nicholas met in the Holy Land and whom he helped to bring back to life–at least spiritually.

While all of these additional stories can’t be attributed to Nicholas with certainty, we can say that his life and his memory had such a profound effect throughout history that more churches throughout the world now bear the name of “Saint Nicholas” than any other figure, outside of the original disciples themselves.

Some people wonder if they can believe in Saint Nicholas or not. Nicholas probably wouldn’t care so much if you believed in him or not, but that you believed in the One in whom He believed, Jesus Christ.

A popular image today shows Saint Nicholas bowing down, his hat at his side, kneeling in front of baby Jesus in the manger. Although that scene could never have taken place in real life, for Saint Nicholas was born almost 300 years after the birth of Christ, the heart of that scene couldn’t be more accurate. Nicholas was a true believer in Jesus and he did worship, adore and live his life in service to the Christ.

Saint Nicholas would have never wanted his story to replace the story of Jesus in the manger, but he would have loved to have his story point to Jesus in the manger. And that’s why this book was written.

While the stories told here were selected from the many that have been told about Saint Nicholas over the years, these were told so that you might believe–not just in Nicholas, but in Jesus Christ, his Savior. These stories were written down for the same reason the Apostle John wrote down the stories he recorded about Jesus in the Bible. John said he wrote his stories:

“…that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).

Nicholas would want the same for you. He would want you to become what he was: a Believer.

If you’ve never done so, put your faith in Jesus Christ today, asking Him to forgive you of your sins and giving you the assurance that you will live with Him forever.

If you’ve already put your faith in Christ, let this story remind you just how precious your faith really is. Renew your commitment today to serve Christ as Nicholas served Him: with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength. God really will work all things together for good. As the Bible says:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Thanks for reading this special book about this special man, and I pray that your Christmas may be truly merry and bright. As Clement Moore said in his now famous poem, A Visit From St. Nicholas:
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
Eric Elder

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS (Back to Table of Contents)

Special thanks to Joe Wheeler and Jim Rosenthal whose book, St. Nicholas: A Closer Look at Christmas, provided much of the background material for this novella. Their research and documentation of the life of St. Nicholas, and the historical context in which he lived, was the most informative, authoritative and inspirational we found on the subject. Thank you, Joe and Jim, for helping to keep the spirit of St. Nicholas alive!

ABOUT THE AUTHORS (Back to Table of Contents)

Eric & Lana Elder have written numerous Christmas stories that have captivated and inspired thousands as part of an annual Christmas production known as The Bethlehem Walk.

St. Nicholas: The Believer marks the debut of their first full-length Christmas story. Eric & Lana have also collaborated on several other inspirational books including:

  • Two Weeks With God
  • What God Says About Sex
  • Exodus: Lessons In Freedom
  • Jesus: Lessons In Love
  • Acts: Lessons In Faith
  • Nehemiah: Lessons In Rebuilding
  • Ephesians: Lessons In Grace
  • Israel: Lessons From The Holy Land
  • Israel For Kids: Lessons From The Holy Land
  • The Top 20 Passages In The Bible
  • Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind
  • and Making The Most Of The Darkness

To order or learn more, please visit:  www.InspiringBooks.com

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric and Lana Elder

Thanks for reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

San Nicolás: El Creyente

(The Spanish Edition of St. Nicholas: The Believer). Un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás
por Eric y Lana Elder
traducido por Victor J. Palomino

Léalo en línea de abajo!

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Dedicatorio (Volver al índice de contenidos)
por Eric Elder

Este libro estás dedicado a mi querida esposa, la cual me inspiró y me ayudó a decirles a ustedes este cuento espectacular.

Lana acababa de terminar su redacción final y sugerencias sobre este libro la semana antes de pasar de esta vida a la próxima, demasiadamente joven a la edad de 48 años.

Fue su idea y su sueño compartir la historia de San Nicolás con tan cuantas personas posible. Ella quería inspirarlos a dar sus vidas por otros como Jesús había dado su vida por nosotros. Este libro es el primer paso en realizar ese sueño.

Al mundo Lana tal vez habría sido sólo una persona, pero para mí ella era el mundo. Este libro está dedicado a ella con gran amor.

Introducción (Volver al índice de contenidos)
por Eric Elder

Hubo un tiempo que casi había dejado de celebrar la Navidad. Nuestros hijos aún eran pequeños y todavía no estaban sometidos a la idea de Santa Claus y los regalos, el arbolito y las decoraciones navideñas.

Había leído que los religiosos puritanos que primero habían venido a Norte América eran tan fervientes en su fe que no celebraban nada de la Navidad. En vez, ellos les ponían una multa a los negociantes en sus comunidades que dejaban de mantener sus tiendas abiertas el día de Navidad. Ellos no querían nada que ver con un día de fiesta que ellos sentían que basadas en el paganismo. Para mí como recién convertido al evangelio y recién padre la idea de ir contra el exceso navideño en nuestra cultura me agradaba por lo menos en algunos aspectos.

Entonces leí un artículo por un hombre que simplemente le encantaba celebrar la Navidad. No encontraba mejor manera de celebrar el nacimiento del personaje más importante en la historia humana que tener una fiesta enorme en Su nombre—colectando y festejando y compartiendo regalos con tantas familias y amigos como fuera posible. Este hombre era un pastor de gran fe y gran gozo. Para él el gozo del nacimiento de Jesús era tan maravilloso que se deleitaba en todos los aspectos de la Navidad, incluyendo su preparación, decoraciones y actividades que eran parte de la celebración. Hasta le encantaba tener en el festejo a Santa Claus, nuestra versión moderna del real y verdadero personaje de antaño, San Nicolás, un hombre también de gran fe y gran gozo que adoraba y le hacía culto al niño que nació en Belém.

Entonces, ¿Por qué no celebrar el nacimiento de Cristo? ¿Por qué no tener la celebración más grande del año? ¿Por qué no celebrar la fiesta más feliz de todas?

Ya tenía la respuesta. Celebraría la Navidad—y mis hijos serían más felices en celebrarla también.

Me dediqué a celebrar la Navidad con gran esfuerzo y a la vez me dediqué a investigar intensamente la vida del verdadero San Nicolás, un hombre que estaba inamoviblemente entrelazado con este Día Santo. Descubrí que San Nicolás y Santa Claus eran verdaderamente la misma persona, y que San Nicolás, que vivió en el tercer y cuarto siglo después del nacimiento de Cristo, fue verdaderamente creyente de Cristo.

Mientras mi esposa y yo leíamos más y más sobre la fascinante historia de Nicolás, nos apasionaba más este creyente que ya por mucho tiempo capturaba los corazones y las imaginaciones de creyentes e incrédulos al igual por los siglos.

Con tantos libros y películas que se esmeran en contar el “verdadero” cuento de Santa Claus (así como el de sus venados realmente motorizados por Coca-Cola y ponche navideño), descubrí que hay muy pocos cuentos que se esmeran en realmente describir quien era San Nicolás, y particularmente, lo que él creía sobre el Hombre por el cual la Navidad se celebra, Jesucristo. Me sorprendí que a pesar de todos los documentos históricos que afirman la fe en Cristo de San Nicolás, cuentos imperiosos de ellos han desaparecido por medio de los años.

Entonces con el apoyo y la ayuda de mi querida esposa, Lana, decidimos revivirles a ustedes la historia de San Nicolás con el deseo de que ustedes capturen de nuevo la esencia de la Navidad.

Mientras algunos, hasta con buenos motivos, se esmeran en quitar todo lo que sea secular de este día de los más santos del año, a mi me parece preciso esmerarme en restaurar a Santa a su lugar correcto—no como el santo patrón de los centros comerciales, pero como un faro que brilla su luz en Él por el cual celebramos ese Día Santo.

Es con gran fe y gran gozo que les ofrezco esta novela corta de Navidad. Ha sido mi deseo contársela y espero que a ustedes les encante oírla. Tal vez sea el relato más humano de la historia de San Nicolás que ustedes han oído.

Sobre todo, le ruego a Dios que use esta historia para despertar tu amor, no sólo por esta fiesta del año, pero por Aquél que ilumina la fiesta.

¡Qué Dios los bendiga en esta Navidad y siempre!

En el amor de Cristo,

Eric Elder

P.D. He dividido este cuento en siete partes y cuarenta capítulos para facilitar la lectura. Si prefieren, pueden leer una parte por siete días antes de Navidad. O si prefieren, usen este libro como un devocional leyendo un capítulo por día por cuarenta días antes de Navidad, contando el prólogo, el epílogo y la conclusión como capítulos separados. Si empiezan el 15 de noviembre, entonces terminarán el Día de Nochebuena.

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

TABLA DE CONTENIDO

PARTE 1

PARTE 2

PARTE 3

PARTE 4

PARTE 5

PARTE 6

PARTE 7

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PARTE 1

Prólogo (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Mi nombre es Demetrio—Demetrio Alejandro. Pero eso no es lo importante. Lo importante es aquel hombre allá, acostado en la cama. Él es—bueno, supongo que no hay otra manera de describirlo menos que decir—él es un santo. No sólo por todo lo bueno que ha hecho, pero porque él era—como todos los santos son—un creyente. Él creía que había Alguien mayor que él en la vida, Alguien que lo guiaba, que lo ayudaba cada día de su vida.

Si usted lo mirara de cerca, acostado allí en la cama, le parecería que esta muerto. Y puede tener razón. Pero la verdad es que él ahora está más vivo que antes jamás.

Mis amigos y yo hemos venido aquí hoy para pasar su último día en la tierra con él. Sólo hace unos minutes que lo vimos pasar de esta vida a la próxima.

Yo debería estar llorando, lo sé. Créame he llorado—y lloraré de nuevo. Pero por lo pronto, lo único que siento es gratitud porque él por fin ha llegado a su nuevo hogar, el hogar que él ha estado soñando por años. El hogar donde él por fin puede hablar con Dios cara a cara, como yo le estoy hablando a usted en este momento.

Cierto, verdaderamente era un santo. Pero para mí y muchos otros, él era mucho más. Él era—¿cómo podría decirlo? Una inspiración. Un amigo. Un maestro. Un ayudante. Un donante. Cómo le encantaba dar y dar y dar más, hasta que parecía no tener nada más que dar. Pero en esos momentos él extendía su mano más abajo y encontraba un poco más. “Siempre hay algo que se puede dar,” era lo que él muchas veces decía.

Él vivía con la esperanza de que, aunque en la forma más mínima, podía usar su vida para cambiar el mundo. Quería, sobre todo, ayudar a las personas. Pero con tantas necesidades en su alrededor, ¿qué podía hacer?

Era como un hombre en la playa rodeado de estrellas de mar que habían sido llevadas a la orilla por la marea. Sabía que morirían si no entraran de nuevo al mar.

Sin saber cómo poder salvarlas todas, el hombre en la playa hizo lo que pudo. Se agachó, tomó una en la mano, y la tiró al mar. Entonces se agachó de nuevo, tomó otra, e hizo lo mismo.

Alguien una de esas veces le preguntó al hombre por qué se molestaba en hacer eso—porque con tanta necesidad a su alrededor, ¿cómo era posible salvarlas todas? El hombre simplemente tiró otra al mar diciendo, “Tal vez no todas, pero ésa ya podrá vivir.” Entonces se agachó y tomó otra.

Pues bien, en el mundo tal vez eres sólo una persona, pero para una persona tú puedes ser un mundo.

En muchas formas mi amigo era igual a usted y a mí. Cada uno de nosotros tenemos sólo una vida para vivir. Pero si la vivimos correctamente, una vida es sólo lo que necesitamos. Y si vivimos nuestra vida para Dios, bueno, es posible que toquemos todo un mundo.

¿Cambió el mundo la vida de mi amigo? Yo ya sé la respuestas, porque yo fui uno de aquellos que él tomó hace muchísimos años. Pero es mejor que yo le haga el cuento, y cuando termine, le dejaré decidir si su vida ha cambiado el mundo o no. Y tal vez, cuando termine, usted verá que su vida también puede cambiarlo.

Perdón, pero no le he dicho su nombre todavía, este hombre que fue un gran santo, un gran creyente en el Dios que lo amó, que lo creó, que lo sostenía y con quien él vive ahora para siempre.

Su nombre es Nicolás—y ésta es su historia.

 

Capítulo 1 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Nicolás vivía en un mundo ideal. Por lo menos así era come él se lo imaginaba. Como un niño de nueve años de edad, creciendo en la costa norte del Gran Mar según él lo llamaba—Usted lo llamaría el Mar Mediterráneo—Nicolás no se podía imaginar una vida mejor.

Muchas veces caminaba por las calles con su padre, pretendiendo caminar a algún lugar en particular. Pero la verdadera razón por sus caminatas era para buscar a una persona con dificultades económicas, una persona que necesitaba una ayuda en la vida. Un simple saludo a veces se volvía en el descubrimiento de una necesidad que se debía enfrentar. Nicolás y su padre oraban, y si podían resolver esa dificultad, buscaban el modo de hacerlo.

Nicolás no tenía idea de veces que su padre se acercaba a una persona por detrás y después le ponía unas manzanas en su bolso, o una o dos monedas. Según Nicolás, nadie se daba cuenta de lo que su padre había hecho, y a veces él oía a la gente hablar del milagro de recibir exactamente lo que necesitaban en el momento preciso, de una manera inesperada.

A Nicolás le encantaban esas caminatas con su padre, al igual que le encantaba pasar tiempo con su madre en la casa. Sus padres le mostraban el mismo amor y generosidad a él que se lo mostraban a tantísimos otras personas.

De cierta manera sus padres habían aprendido a prosperar aún en los tiempos turbios en los cuales vivían. Realmente ellos eran muy ricos. Pero ser rico o pobre a Nicolás no le parecía ser importante. Lo único que sabía y le importaba era que sus padres lo amaban como ninguna otra persona en el mundo. Él era su único hijo, y sus horas juntas eran simples y verdaderamente felices.

Sus tiempos más copiosos eran por la noche mientras compartían cuentos que habían oído—cuentos de un Hombre que no era como ningún otro Hombre que ellos conocían. Un Hombre que había vivido al otro lado del Gran Mar como doscientos ochenta años antes. Su nombre era Jesús. Nicolás estaba cautivado con los cuentos de ese Hombre que parecía ser algo digno de estimación en los ojos de sus padres. Jesús le parecía ser humilde y real a la vez. ¿Cómo podía una persona tener esas dos características al igual? ¿Cómo podía ser tan pobre que había nacido en un establo de animales, y a la vez ser tan generoso que podía darle de comer a cinco mil personas? ¿Cómo podía vivir Su vida tan repleta, y a la vez morir una muerte tan cruel? Jesús era para Nicolás incomprensible, la persona más fascinante que él jamás había oído. Algún día, Nicolás pensaba, él anhelaba visitar ese lugar al otro lado del mar—y caminar donde Jesús caminó.

A pesar de todo el amor que Nicolás y sus padres compartían y que los unía, había una cosa que amenazaba separarlos. Era la cosa que parecía amenazar a muchas familias en su país en esos tiempos, sin distinguir entre ricos y pobres, su fe o falta de ella, su amor por otras personas o su falta de amor.

Los amigos de Nicolás y sus vecinos le llamaban la plaga. Sus padres la habían mencionado de vez en cuando, pero sólo en sus oraciones. Ellos oraban por las familias afectadas por la plaga, pidiéndole a Dios sanidad cuando fuera posible, y por fuerza de fe cuando no lo era. Sobre todo, sus padres oraban que Nicolás, a pesar de todo lo que pasara a su alrededor, él siempre supiera lo mucho que ellos lo amaban, y lo muchísimo que Dios lo amaba.

A pesar de que Nicolás era un niño, había visto suficiente para saber de la verdadera amenaza que existía en el mundo. Aún, él había sido protegido de esa amenaza, de cierto modo, por el amor de sus padres y por su devota fe en Dios. Como su padre había aprendido por medio de los años, y tantísimas veces se lo había recordado a Nicolás, “Dios dispone todas las cosas para el bien de quienes lo aman.” Y Nicolás le creía. Hasta ahora, él no tenía razón de dudar las palabras dichas por su padre.

Pero serían sólo unos meses antes de que la fe de Nicolás fuera desafiada, y él tendría que decidir por sí mismo si él creía esas palabras—que Dios dispone todas las cosas para el bien de quienes lo aman.

Esta noche, sin embargo, él simplemente confiaba en las palabras de su padre, mientras escuchaba a sus padres orar por él—y por aquellos en la ciudad—mientras se dejaba caer en un sueño perfecto.

 

Capítulo 2 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Nicolás se despertó oyendo el cantar de las aves afuera de su ventana. El aire estaba fresco y limpio como lavado por la niebla de la temprana mañana.

Pero la noticia de la mañana era menos grata. Al hijo de unos amigos de la familia de Nicolás se le había pegado la enfermedad que sólo se encontraba en otras ciudades. El niño estaba a punto de morir.

El padre de Nicolás había oído la noticia primero y había ido a orar por el niño. Al regresar a casa cuando Nicolás se despertaba, su padre compartió la noticia con su esposa y con su hijo.

“Tenemos que orar,” dijo el padre sin sugerencia de pánico en su voz, pero con la inconfundible urgencia que causó a los tres caer de rodilla.

El padre de Nicolás empezó la oración: “Padre, Tú sabes los planes que tú tienes para este niño. Confiamos que Tú los lleves a cabo. Oramos por sanidad porque amamos a este niño, pero sabemos que Tú lo amas más que nosotros. Confiamos que mientras ponemos a este pequeño en tus manos esta mañana, Tú dispones de todo para el bien, como tú siempre lo haces para todos quienes te aman.

Era una oración que Nicolás había oído a su padre decir muchas veces antes, pidiendo por lo que ellos creían que era lo mejor en cada situación, pero confiando que Dios sabía el mejor fin. Era la misma oración que Nicolás había oído que Jesús dijo la noche antes de morir: “Padre, si quieres,” Jesús oró, “no me hagas beber este trago amargo pero no se cumpla mi voluntad, sino la tuya.”

A Nicolás le era difícil entender esta oración. ¿No querrá Dios lo mejor para nosotros siempre? Y ¿cómo puede ser la muerte de algún bien? Aún, su padre oraba esa oración tantas veces que Nicolás estaba seguro que era la correcta oración. Pero cómo Dios podía contestar la oración de otra forma—y aún disponer de todo para el bien—le parecía un misterio.

Después de que la madre de Nicolás añadió sus palabras de oración y Nicolás mismo había hecho su petición, su padre terminó dándole gracias a Dios por escucharlos—y por ya haberles contestado la oración.

Mientras se ponían de pie, la noticia vino a la puerta, como si fuera una respuesta directa a lo que acababan de orar. Pero no era la respuesta que esperaban. El niño había muerto.

La madre de Nicolás empezó a llorar en silencio pero a la vez con lágrimas en los ojos. Lloraba al sentir la pérdida de la madre, sintiendo la pérdida como si fuera su propio hijo que había muerto. El padre de Nicolás la tomó de la mano y abrazó a su hijo, diciendo una silenciosa oración por la familia del niño que acababa de morir, y añadiendo otra oración por su propia familia. Abrazó de nuevo a su esposa y a su hijo, entonces salió por la puerta para regresar a la casa del niño fallecido.

 

Capítulo 3 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

La muerte del niño tuvo un efecto aleccionador en toda la ciudad. La gente del pueblo conocía al niño, claro, y todos estaban tristes por la pérdida de la familia.

Pero su muerte fue más aleccionadora porque no fue un evento único. La gente había oído de cómo la enfermedad se propagaba por todas las ciudades cercanas llevando con ella no solo una o dos vidas aquí o allí, pero familias enteras—comunidades enteras. La muerte de este niño les indicaba que la plaga también había llegado a su pueblo.

Nadie sabía cómo detenerla. Lo único que podían hacer era orar. Y en oración se pusieron.

Así que la enfermedad se propagaba, los padres de Nicolás visitaban los hogares de aquellos que morían. Mientras el dinero de sus padres no tenía ningún poder en ofrecer alivio a las familias, sus oraciones les traerían más paz que cualquier cifra de dinero.

Como siempre, el padre de Nicolás oraba que la muerte se alejara de ellos, como se había alejado de los israelitas en Egipto cuando la plaga de muerte venció sobre las vidas de cada primogénito de cada familia indispuesta a servir a Dios. Pero esta enfermedad era diferente. No distinguía entre creyentes ni incrédulos, primero o último en nacer, ni ningún otro factor aparente. La enfermedad no tenía fronteras, parecía ser invencible.

Aún, Nicolás observaba mientras su padre, a pesar de todo, oraba lleno de fe creyendo que Dios era capaz de detener la plaga en cualquier momento, en cualquier hogar, y confiando que Dios lo dispone de todo para el bien, aunque sus vidas, también, parecían ser abreviadas.

Estas últimas oraciones eran a las que todos se aferraban más. Más que nada, las palabras les daban esperanza—esperanza que sus vidas no eran vividas en vano, esperanza que sus muertes no serían olvidadas por el Dios que los había creado.

La visita del padre y la madre de Nicolás era de gran bienestar para aquellos enfrentando sufrimientos insoportables, porque mientras la plaga se propagaba, menos y menos personas estaban dispuestos a salir de sus casa, y mucho menos visitar las casas donde la enfermedad había atacado. Las oraciones del padre de Nicolás y las lágrimas de su madre, les daban a las familias la fuerza necesaria para encarar cualquier cosa que se les enfrentaba.

Nicolás observaba con asombro a sus padres repartir sus regalos de misericordia durante el día, y después regresar a la casa cada noche totalmente agotados pero espiritualmente colmados de fuerza. Nicolás se preguntaba cómo ellos podían adquirir la fuerza necesaria para cada día. Pero también se preguntaba cuánto tiempo sus propios padres podían seguir sin ser contagiados con la plaga.

Cuando Nicolás por fin tuvo la audacia de darle alta voz a sus preguntas, preguntas que todos estaban a punto de hacer, su padre simplemente respondió que ellos solo tenían dos opciones: vivir en miedo, o vivir en amor siguiendo el ejemplo de Aquel a quien ellos habían confiado sus vidas. Ellos escogieron vivir en amor, haciendo por los demás lo que ellos querían que otros hicieran por ellos.

Así que cada mañana el padre y la madre de Nicolás se levantaban y oraban, pidiéndole a su Señor lo que Él quería que ellos hicieran. Entonces, echando atrás todo miedo que ellos tuvieran, ponían su confianza en Dios, pasando el día sirviendo a los demás como si estuvieran sirviendo al mismo Cristo.

Mientras la respuesta de su padre no contestaba inmediatamente la pregunta que Nicolás tenía en su corazón—la cual era cuánto tiempo más pasaría antes que la enfermedad visitara su propia casa—esa respuesta le parecía contestar otra pregunta más profunda. Contestaba la pregunta si Dios tenía en cuenta todo lo que estaba pasando, y si lo tenía en cuenta, le importaba o no le importaba a Él suficientemente para intervenir.

De modo que Dios guiaba directamente a sus padres cada día, Nicolás obtuvo cierta paz en su corazón que Dios tenía, ciertamente y totalmente, en cuenta todo lo que ocurría en las vidas de cada persona de la ciudad de Patara—y que a Dios definitivamente le importaba. A Dios le importaba tanto que había enviado a los padres de Nicolás a aquellos que necesitaban escuchar una palabra de Él, que necesitaban tocar las manos de Él, que necesitaban contacto con Dios no sólo en su cuerpo pero también en su alma.

Nicolás se imaginaba que la respuesta a su pregunta era más gloriosa que lo que él se lo había imaginado. Su preocupación sobre cuando la enfermedad visitaría su propia casa desapareció cuando se durmió esa noche. En vez, oró que Dios usara sus manos y sus palabras—las manos y las palabras de Nicolás—como si fueran del mismo Dios, extendiéndose para expresar el amor de Dios a su pueblo.

 

Capítulo 4 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Los días siguientes, Nicolás se encontraba queriendo ayudar a su padre y a su madre más y más mientras ellos llevaban la misericordia de Dios a aquellos a su alrededor.

Trabajaban juntos para llevar comida, comodidad y amor a cada familia afectada por la plaga. Algunos días eran tan simples como detenerse en una casa para decirle a una madre que ella tenía compañeros en su sufrimiento. Otros días era llevando comida y bebida a una familia entera que había sufrido la enfermedad. Y aún otros días eran para preparar un lugar en las colinas alrededor del pueblo donde cuidadosamente enterraban a las personas que habían fallecido y ya estaban en la próxima vida.

Cada día el corazón de Nicolás se daba cuenta de la naturaleza temporal de la vida en la tierra, y estaba más y más en sintonía con la naturaleza eterna de la vida impalpable. Le parecía a Nicolás que la diferencia entre los dos mundos cada día se diferenciaba menos. Lo que se había imaginado una vez que era sólido y real—como las piedras y los árboles, como las manos y los píes—de repente tomaban una naturaleza más impalpable. Y aquellas cosa que le eran más difíciles de palpar—empezaban a ser más sólidas y verdaderas.

Le parecía que su mundo se estaba volteando al revés y hasta de lado todo a la misma vez, no con un giro desgarrador, pero como si sus propios ojos se calibraban, se ajustaban mejor para ver con más claridad lo que verdaderamente ocurría–enfocándose con más precisión en las cosa que realmente importaban en la vida. Aún rodeado de tantas muertes y enfermedad, Nicolás se sentía vivir de nuevo con más plenitud que antes había sentido.

Su padre trató de describir lo que Nicolás sentía usando palabras que Jesús dijo, que el que procura conservar su vida, la perderá; pero el que está dispuesto a perderla, encontrará verdadera vida. Aprendiendo ahora a amar al prójimo sin límites de temor y siguiendo adelante en amor, Nicolás se sentía estar verdaderamente vivo.

Si ese sentimiento lo podía sostener por los eventos que aún tendrían que pasar, él no lo sabía. Pero lo que sí sabía era que por lo pronto, más que antes, él quería vivir cada día en plenitud. Él quería despertarse cada día con la anticipación de cómo Dios lo usaría, y después hacer cualquier cosa que Dios estaba dispuesto a darle. Hacer menos que eso era renunciar la vida que Dios quería que el viviera—y engañar a Dios de la obra que Él quería que se hiciera.

Al par que los días pasaban, Nicolás llegó a saber lo que su padre y su madre ya sabían: que nadie sabía cuántos más días le quedaban en este mundo. Sus padres ya no se veían como humanos con una experiencia temporal, pero como seres espirituales. Con ojos de fe, ellos podían mirar hacia adelante sin el temor que captaba a tantos otros de sus vecinos.

 

Capítulo 5 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Una mañana cuando Nicolás se despertó oyendo toser a su madre, su corazón le pareció detenerse.

Por toda la preparación que sus padres—y hasta su propia fe—le habían dado, aún le sorprendió que la enfermedad actualmente podía cruzar el umbral de su propia casa.

Él pensó que tal vez Dios los libraría a todos por la amabilidad que ellos les habían mostrado a otros durante los últimos meses. Pero su padre le había advertido contra ese modo de pensar, recordándole que a pesar de todo el bien que Jesús había hecho en Su vida—por toda la sanidad que Él había traído a otros—aún llegaría la hora cuando Él, también, tendría que enfrentar el sufrimiento y la muerte. No era que Dios no lo amaba, o que no estaba preocupado por Él, o que no había visto todo el bien que había hecho en su vida. Y tampoco era que Jesús se mantenía indiferente a lo que estaba a punto de ocurrir. Jesús hasta les dijo a sus discípulos que su corazón estaba lleno de angustia por lo que tenía que pasar, pero eso no significaba que Él se arrepentía de lo que tenía por delante. No, Él dijo, “Precisamente para afrontarlo he venido. Nadie tiene amor más grande, que el que da su vida por sus amigos.”

La madre de Nicolás tosió de nuevo, y para el niño los minutos empezaron a avanzar lentamente. Se levantó. Al acercarse a su madre, ella se detuvo por un momento. Era como si ella estuviera indecisa entre querer que su hijo se detuviera—que no se acercara un paso más a la enfermedad que ahora estaba en su cuerpo—o levantarse, también, y abrazarlo dejándole saber que todo estaría bien. Pero en un momento más, Nicolás le había hecho innecesario el momento de indecisión, porque él ya estaba en sus brazos, abrazándola fuertemente mientras los dos estaban en llanto. Como Nicolás estaba prendiendo, tener fe no significa que no se debe llorar. Pero significa que uno puede confiar en Dios, hasta con las propias lágrimas.

El padre de Nicolás ya había derramado sus propias lágrimas esa mañana. Había salido de la casa antes de amanecer, esta vez no para visitar a otros, pero para orar. Para él, el lugar al que siempre regresaba cuando necesitaba estar a solas con Dios era al aire fresco a la orilla del mar, no muy lejos de su casa. Aunque él sabía que podía orar en cualquier lugar, en cualquiera ocasión, era a la orilla del mar donde él se sentía íntimamente cerca a Dios. El sonido de las olas y el ritmo del agua en la arena parecían calmarlo teniendo un efecto hipnotizador sobre él.

Él había llegado a tiempo para observar el amanecer del sol a su izquierda, mirando por la orilla del Gran Mar. ¿Cuántos amaneceres había visto de este mismo lugar? Y ¿cuántos más tendría por ver? Volteó la cabeza y tosió dejando que las preguntas regresaran al mar con la próxima ola que retorcía. La enfermedad le había llegado también a él.

Esta no era la primera vez que se preguntaba cuantos días tendría por vivir. La diferencia esta vez era que antes siempre la preguntaba suponiendo el futuro. El venía a este lugar siempre que tenía que hacer una decisión importante, una decisión que requería que él pensara más allá del tiempo presente. Él venía aquí cuando miraba hacia la eternidad, pensando en lo breve que la vida es. Aquí, a la orilla de mar, era como si él pudiera entender a la vez la brevedad de la vida y lo eterno del cielo.

El diario salir del sol, la intensidad, cresta y romper de las olas en la orilla le dejaban saber que Dios aún estaba en control, que Su mundo continuaría—con o sin él—como lo continuaba desde que Dios había pronunciado en existencia el mar y la tierra, y continuaría hasta que Dios decidiera terminarlo, para preparar un nuevo cielo y una nueva tierra. Comparado con la eternidad, el tiempo del mundo le parecía increíblemente breve, y la vida de un hombre más breve aún. Y en ese corto tiempo que vivía, él sabía que tenía que aprovechar al máximo cada día, no sólo en el vivir para sí mismo, ni tampoco por los demás, pero principalmente vivir para Dios que le había dado la vida. Si Dios, el creador de todo, le había deseado dar el aliento viviente, entonces mientras él tuviera vida, él quería usarla lo máximo posible.

Tosiendo otra vez, el padre de Nicolás recordó que esto no era solamente un ejercicio intelectual para ayudarlo a formar una decisión difícil. Esta vez—mientras miraba hacia el amanecer del sol de nuevo, y otra ola que revolvía—se dio cuenta de que esta sería la prueba final de todo lo que él había creído hasta este momento.

En algunas de las pruebas de la vida él había salido sobresaliente. En otras él había fracasado cuando estaba lleno de miedo o dudas. Pero esta era una prueba que él quería aprobar más que ninguna otra.

Cerró los ojos y pido fuerzas para enfrentar otro día. Dejó que el sol le calentara la cara y delicadamente abrió sus manos para sentir la brisa que venía por la orilla del mar en las palmas de sus manos y que flotaba por su cuerpo. Abrió los ojos y miró otra vez hacia el mar.

Entonces dio una vuelta y empezó a caminar a su casa, donde pronto encontraría a su querida esposa y amado hijo en un fuerte y triste abrazo.

 

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PARTE 2

 

Capítulo 6 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Nicolás estaba sólo. Estaba en la misma parte de la playa donde su padre había estado orando sólo diez años antes, mirando el amanecer del día y las olas a la orilla de la playa.

El padre de Nicolás no pudo volver a salir a ver nunca más el Gran Mar porque fue finalmente vencido por la enfermedad después de aquel día. La madre de Nicolás falleció primero, dentro de dos semanas de haberse enfermado. Su padre vivió otros tres días después de la muerte de su esposa, como si estuviera esperando lo más posible estar cierto que su esposa pasara en paz de esta vida a la próxima, y para estar cierto que Nicolás estaba lo más listo posible para tomar sólo el próximo paso de su vida.

El padre de Nicolás no fue tímido en derramar sus lágrimas, pero no quería que fueran perdidas en emociones injustas tampoco. “No llores porque ha terminado,” su padre le dijo

Había una temporada y lugar para enojo y desencanto, pero esta no era la temporada de ninguna de las dos. Si tuviera la oportunidad de hacerlo todo de nuevo, sus padres hubieran escogido hacer exactamente lo mismo que habían hecho. “No era una tontería,” ellos dijeron, “estar dispuesto a arriesgar la vida amando a otros, especialmente cuanto no había ninguna garantía que ellos sobrevivirían.”

Al final, la plaga terminó tomando las vidas de casi la tercera parte de la gente de Patara antes de finalmente tomar su rumbo. La enfermedad parecía tener una mente propia, enfermando a aquellos que se protegían al igual que aquellos, como sus padres, que se aventuraban a salir al medio de ella.

Después de la muerte de sus padres, Nicolás sintió un nuevo sentimiento urgente de llevar a cabo la obra de sus padres, visitando a aquellos que estaban enfermos y animando a los familiares de aquellos que habían fallecido.

Entonces, casi tan pronto como había llegado a su ciudad, la plaga desapareció. Nicolás pasó casi las próximas semanas durmiendo, tratando de recuperarse de los largos días—y más largas noches—de suministrar a aquellos que estaban enfermos. Cuando estaba despierto, pasaba el tiempo tratando de entender sus propios sentimientos y emociones sintiendo la pérdida de su propia amada familia. Su vida estaba tan entrelazada con la de ellos, y al ser arrebatada tan de repente de él, apenas sabía la próxima cosa que hacer sin ellos. Nicolás fue a vivir con su tío, un sacerdote que vivía en el monasterio de Patara, hasta estar listo para aventurar adelante en el mundo a solas. Por fin la hora había llegado, y ahora Nicolás tendría que tomar una decisión.

Diferencia a tantos otros que la plaga había dejado huérfanos, a Nicolás le habían dejado una considerable herencia. La pregunta en su corazón no era que haría para ganarse la vida, pero que haría para hacerse de una vida. Por medio de todo lo que él había vivido, y ahora reconociendo la brevedad de la vida por sí mismo, Nicolás en este momento ya sabía por qué su padre había venido tantas veces a la orilla del mar para orar. Ahora era el turno de Nicolás de pensar en su propio futuro considerando lo más eterno.

¿Qué debo hacer? ¿Adónde debo ir? ¿Cómo debo pasar el resto de mi vida? Las preguntas lo hubieran vencido, excepto que su padre también lo había preparado bien para momentos como éstos.

Su padre, siempre estudiante de las Santas Escrituras y de la vida de Cristo, le había enseñado que Jesús les dijo a sus discípulos que no se preocuparan mucho por los problemas por venir sino en los problemas de cada día. “Cada día tiene ya sus problemas,” Jesús dijo.

Mientras Nicolás pensaba sobre esto, su carga se aliviaba. No tenía que saber qué hacer el resto de su vida en este momento. Sólo tenía que decidir su próximo paso.

Tenía suficiente dinero para viajar el mundo entero tres o cuatro veces y aún tendría suficiente dinero para vivir los años venideros. Pero en realidad eso no era lo que él quería hacer. Nunca le había interesado vivir con lujo o sin control, pues la vida que conocía hasta este momento siempre le daba muchísima satisfacción. Pero había un lugar que él siempre había querido ver con sus propios ojos.

Mientras miraba el mar, al sur y al oeste, sabía que a lo lejos estaba el lugar que más quería visitar—la tierra que en su mente le parecía la más preciosa de todas. Era la tierra donde Jesús había vivido, la tierra donde Él había caminado, había enseñado, la tierra donde Él había nacido y había muerto, y la tierra donde tantos cuentos de Su vida—y casi de la entera Santas Escrituras—habían tomado lugar.

Nicolás sabía que en la vida ciertas decisiones sólo se tomaban bajo el sudor y la agonía de la oración, tratando desesperadamente de decidir entre dos fines aparentemente buenos, y a la vez caminos diferentes. Pero esta decisión no era una de ellas. Ésta era una decisión que, por lo natural de sus circunstancias, era verdaderamente fácil de tomar. Además de su tío, había tan poco que lo mantuviera en Patara, y nada que lo detuviera en llevar a cabo el deseo que había tenido en su corazón por tanto tiempo.

Se alegró que su padre le había mostrado este lugar, y se alegró de haber venido a él de nuevo hoy. Sabía exactamente la próxima cosa que iba a hacer. Su decisión era tan clara como el agua del mar delante de él.

 

Capítulo 7 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

La llegada de Nicolás a la costa lejana del Gran Mar vino más repentina de lo que se había imaginado. Hacía tiempo que Él se había imaginado caminar dónde Jesús caminó, y ahora, a la edad de diecinueve años, por fin estaba allí.

Encontrar un barco para que lo llevara allí no fue difícil, porque su propia ciudad de Patara era uno de los puertos principales de parada para los barcos navegando de Egipto a Roma, llevando a viajeros al igual que carga. Reservar el pasaje era tan simple cómo mostrar que uno tenía el dinero para comprarlo, lo cual Nicolás tenía.

Pero ya que había llegado, ¿adónde iría primero? Quería verlo todo de una vez, aunque eso era imposible. La solución vino al sentir que lo halaban de la manga.

¿Usted es cristiano?” una pequeña voz le preguntó. Nicolás inclinó su cabeza abajo y vio a un niño que no parecía tener más de diez año mirándolo. Dos niños más cerca de él se reían. Hacer esta pregunta tan abiertamente, cuando en general era peligroso hacerla, mostraba que el niño era un fiel creyente de Cristo buscando a otro creyente, o mostraba que tenía otros motivos en mente. De la risa de sus amiguitos a su lado, un niño y una niña poco menor que el que había hecho la pregunta, Nicolás sintió que el motivo probablemente era el segundo.

¿Usted es cristiano?” el niño le preguntó de nuevo. “Yo lo puedo llevar a los sitios sagrados.”

Ah, eso es,” se dijo Nicolás. Tantos peregrinos obviamente han venido a este lugar todos estos años que hasta los más pequeños de allí sabían que los peregrinos necesitaban un guía al llegar. Mirando a los tres niños otra vez, Nicolás sintió que ellos lo podían ayudar. El corazón de Nicolás confiaba, y al no ser incauto tampoco pensando que aquí no tendría dificultades, confiaba que el mismo Dios que lo había traído a este lugar también le proveería la ayuda que necesitaba al llegar. Aunque estos niños lo hacían sólo para ganar unas monedas, eso le parecía bien a Nicolás. Él tenía dinero. Pero no tenía un mapa. Con gran gusto él los emplearía para que fueran como un mapa viviente a los sitios sagrados.

Sí, y sí,” Nicolás contestó. “Verdaderamente, soy cristiano. Y si ustedes quieren llevarme, entonces sí, porque tengo mucho interés en ver los sitios sagrados. Y sería un gran gusto si tus amigos vinieran con nosotros, también. Entonces, si nos encontramos en un apuro, ellos nos pueden defender a los dos.”

El niño se quedó sorprendido y sus amigos se rieron de nuevo. No era la respuesta que esperaba, por lo menos no tan rápido y no sin pasar mucho tiempo molestando al hombre. Siempre los peregrinos que venían eran mucho más escépticos al salir del barco, deshaciéndose rápidamente de todos lo que se les acercaban—por lo menos hasta estar en tierra un rato y tener sus planes en orden. Pero el niño pronto se recuperó del asombro e inmediatamente extendió la mano derecha, palma arriba, inclinando la cabeza para saludarlo. A Nicolás le dio la delicada impresión que el niño estaba a su disposición y la indelicada impresión que el niño estaba listo para que Nicolás le pusiera una moneda en la mano abierta. Al ver otra oportunidad para sorprender al niño de nuevo, Nicolás resolvió hacerlo con gusto.

Delicadamente le puso tres de sus más pequeñas, pero más brillantes monedas, en la palma de la mano y le dijo, “Mi nombre es Nicolás. Y ya veo que eres un hombre sabio. Ahora bien, si eres capaz de mantener la mano abierta después de haberte puesto tres monedas en ella, serás aún más sabio. Pues, para él que aprieta el puño tomando lo que ha recibido le será difícil recibir más. Pero para él que abre la mano voluntariamente hacia el cielo—voluntariamente dando igualmente de lo que voluntariamente ha recibido—reconocerá que su Padre celestial por lo general no se detendrá en darle más.”

Nicolás hizo una seña con la mano indicándole al niño que era su intención que compartiera lo que había recibido con sus amigos, los cuales se habían acercado más al ver las monedas. El niño irrevocablemente era el portavoz de los tres, pero aún se detuvo un momento pensando en lo que iba a hacer. Este hombre era tan diferente a otros que el niño había conocido. Con los otros, el niño siempre trataba, generalmente sin éxito, de engatusarlos en que le dieran una de las monedas de su bolso, y ahora este hombre le había dado tres monedas en su primer intento. El hecho que las monedas no habían sido dadas a regañadientes, pero felizmente, verdaderamente lo habían confundido. Nunca había oído a nadie decir eso de mantener la mano abierta para dar y recibir. Su instinto era enseguida apretar el puño con las monedas dentro, y correr hasta llegar al lugar más seguro, y a solas entonces abrir la mano para examinarlas y dejar que su brillo iluminara sus ojos. Pero aún él estaba en asombro, con el brazo extendido y la palma de la mano hacia arriba. Casi contra su propia voluntad, se sintió girar ligeramente y extenderles la mano a sus amigos.

Tomando la oportunidad, los otros dos rápidamente tomaron una moneda de su mano. Al instante de realizar que ellos, también, estaban a punto de apretar sus puños aferrando sus nuevos tesoros, lentamente abrieron la mano, mirando al recién llegado peregrino con asombro. No sólo estaban asombrados que él les había dado la moneda, pero que aún estaban delante de él con la mano abierta, sorprendiéndose hasta ellos mismos de estar dispuestos a seguir el extraño consejo de este hombre.

La escena causó que Nicolás empezara a reírse a carcajadas. Estaba a gusto que habían respondido de esa manera y rápidamente les puso en las manos dos más de sus pequeñas monedas, ahora triplicando su asombro. No era la cantidad del regalo que los asombraba, porque ellos habían visto propinas más grandes de peregrinos más ricos, pero era el espíritu de generosidad y alegría que acompañaba el regalo que los sorprendió.

El incidente completo duró menos de un minuto, pero había preparado a Nicolás y sus nuevos amigos a anticipar el viaje que los esperaba.

Ahora, deben cerrar la mano otra vez, porque un hombre sabio—o una mujer–,” dijo inclinándose hacia la niña, “también cuida lo que se le ha dado para que no se le pierda o se lo roben.”

Entonces, dando una vuelta para caminar hacia la ciudad, Nicolás dijo, “¿A ver si me dejan descansar esta noche, y entonces, al amanecer del día pueden empezar a enseñarme los sitios sagrados?”

Mientras abundaban los sitios sagrados en esta tierra santa, en los momentos mágicos que acababan de transcurrir, les parecía a los tres niños—y hasta al mismo Nicolás— que ellos acababan de pisar el primero.

 

Capítulo 8 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

La mañana siguiente, Nicolás se despertó al salir el sol. Les había dijo a los niño que se encontraran con él en el mesón poco después del amanecer. Sentía tener el corazón lleno de alegría anticipando el día por delante. Dentro de unos momentos, oyó un toque en la puerta y la inconfundible risa de los niños.

Supo que el nombre de los niños eran Demetrio, Samuel y Rut. Ellos tenían, para decir la verdad, experiencia en la vida. Eran hijos de padres que los habían dejado al nacer para aprender por su cuenta. Huérfanos como estos niños abundaban por las calles en todo el imperio romano, productos de un pueblo que disfrutaba sus placeres por dondequiera y con cualquier persona que ellos deseaban, sin pensar en los resultados de sus acciones.

Mientras Demetrio había podido vivir como víctima de su situación, no lo hizo. Había realizado de muy niño que de nada le valdría frustrándose o enojándose con sus circunstancias. Así que comenzó a ser negociante. Empezó a buscar maneras de trabajar ayudando a la gente a hacer lo que necesitaban, principalmente esas cosas que ellos no podían hacer por su cuenta o no querían hacer. Muchas veces no fue compensado por su esfuerzo, pero cuando lo era, se fijó que valía la pena trabajar.

No lo hacía por motivo de religión, porque él no era religioso, ni lo hacía por motivo de avaricia, porque nunca había hecho nada que no le parecía honesto si era sólo por el dinero, como los mezquinos lo hacen porque su único interés es el dinero. Simplemente, él pensaba que si hacía algún trabajo que otros valuaban, y si lo hacía bien y tomaba tiempo en hacerlo, entonces, de algún modo, el tendría éxito en la vida. Algunos como Demetrio se tropezaban con sabiduría divina sin realizarlo.

Samuel y Rut, al contrario, sólo lo acompañaban para ver qué bien les traería. Como abejas atraídas a la miel, Samuel y Rut eran atraídos a Demetrio, como a menudo pasa cuando una persona procede en hacer bien. Samuel tenía ocho años, y como Demetrio, no era religioso tampoco, pero había escogido su nombre él mismo cuando oyó a alguien contar la historia de otro niño llamado Samuel el cual, cuando era aún muy pequeño, sus padres lo habían entregado a un sacerdote para criarlo. Al Samuel de hoy le encantaba escuchar los cuentos de lo que el otro niño había hecho aunque había vivido más de mil años antes. El Samuel presente no sabía si los cuentos del otro Samuel eran ciertos, pero sin importarle había tomado su nombre ya varios años. Fue sólo en los últimos meses, viajando a los sitios sagrados con Demetrio, que había empezado a pensar si los cuentos eran verdaderamente ciertos.

Y Rut, aunque tenía sólo siete años, tenía chispa. Nunca se le olvidaban los nombres de la gente ni las fechas ni lo que había pasado ni cuándo ni quién le hizo qué a quién. La risa era su característica, pero aunque era pequeña, su mente anhelaba aprender y ella recordaba todo lo que veía y todo lo que se le enseñaba. Tenía la cabeza llena de preguntas, y naturalmente ella las hacía en alta voz.

A Demetrio no le molestaba que los pequeños lo siguieran, porque aunque habría sido más fácil hacer lo que tenía que hacer sólo, sabía también de los peligros que se encontraban en la calle y se sentía obligado a ayudar a los dos niños como un hermano mayor hubiera ayudado a sus hermanitos. Y con toda honestidad, él no tenía a nadie a quien llamar familia, así que al encontrarse con estos dos unos años antes se le llenó parte del corazón de una manera que no podía describir, pero de algún modo lo hacía sentir más a gusto.

Nicolás miró la escena de las tres caras radiantes en su umbral. “¿Adónde primero?” preguntó Demetrio.

“Empecemos en el principio,” dijo Nicolás, “en el sitio dónde Jesús nació.” Y con eso empezaron el viaje a pie de tres días de la costa de Jope a las colinas de Belén.

 

Capítulo 9 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Después de dos días de caminar y dormir en las colinas, Nicolás y sus nuevos amigos tenían sólo medio día de viaje antes de llegar a Belén. El gozo de Nicolás se intensificaba con cada colina que subían y bajaban, porque estaban al llegar al sitio santo que más anhelaba ver, el lugar donde Jesús nació.

“¿Por qué te imaginas que lo hizo?” Demetrio preguntó. “Es decir, ¿Por qué había querido Jesús venir al Mundo? Si yo estuviera ya en el cielo, pienso que habría querido quedarme allá.”

Aunque Demetrio había de ser el guía, no le importaba hacer tan cuantas preguntas le venían a la mente, especialmente cuando guiaba a una persona como Nicolás, lo cual no ocurría mucho.

A Nicolás no le molestaban tampoco sus preguntas, porque él mismo les había hecho muchas preguntas a sus padres. Ellos pertenecían a una comunidad de creyentes que se había inaugurado casi doscientos cincuenta años antes por el mismo apóstol Pablo cuando él había visitado la vecina ciudad de Mira en uno de sus viajes misioneros, enseñándoles de Jesús a todos los que lo escuchaban. Pablo había vivido durante los años de Jesús, aunque Pablo mismo no llegó a ser creyente hasta después de Jesús morir y resucitar de la muerte. Los cuentos de Pablo siempre eran dignos de escuchar.

Nicolás tuvo la oportunidad de escuchar todos los cuentos de Pablo cuando estuvo en Mira, como habían sido escritos y contados por muchas personas por los años.

De niño, Nicolás pensaba que algo que había pasado más de doscientos cincuenta años era historia de la antigüedad. Pero al crecer, y ahora aún más que sus padres habían fallecido, no le parecía nada de tiempos lejanos. Los cuentos que Nicolás había oído eran los mismos que su padre y su abuelo y su bisabuelo habían oído seis o siete generaciones antes y algunos parientes hasta los habían oído por primera vez del mismo Pablo. A Nicolás le encantaba oírlos de nuevo vez y tras otra, y había hecho muchas de las mismas preguntas que Demetrio hacía ahora—como porque Jesús dejó el cielo para venir al mundo en persona.

“La respuesta es simple, porque nos amaba,” dijo Nicolás. “Pero sólo con esa respuesta no se contesta en realidad la pregunta que me estás haciendo, porque Dios siempre nos ha amado. La razón por la cual Jesús vino al mundo era, pues, porque habían cosas que tenían que hacer en persona.”

Nicolás empezó a explicarles el evangelio—las buenas nuevas—a los niños, de cómo Jesús vino a pagar el precio máximo con su vida por todo el mal que nosotros le habíamos hecho así preparándonos una senda para regresar a Dios con el corazón limpio, y además vivir con Él en el cielo para siempre.

Mientras Nicolás les contaba la historia, los niños lo miraban con completa atención. Aunque ellos habían estado antes en Belén muchas veces, y a menudo habían llevado a peregrinos a la cueva que había sido tallada de la ladera de la colina donde se decía que Jesús había nacido, nunca antes se les había imaginado que fuera así. Nunca habían entendido la razón por qué Dios hizo lo que hizo. Y nunca habían considerado que los cuentos que habían escuchado de Jesús, Dios en forma humana, eran ciertos. ¿Cómo podía ser eso?

A pesar de todo, al oír la explicación de Nicolás, ellos la entendían tan bien que se preguntaban cómo no la habían considerado cierta antes. En esos momentos sus corazones y mentes por fin se abrieron por lo menos a la posibilidad que era verdad. Y esa realización fue el punto de partida de cada una de sus vidas, así como lo había sido para Nicolás la primera vez que le explicaron la verdad. Dios verdaderamente los amaba, y Dios les había demostrado ese amor a ellos en venir al mundo y salvarlos de la cierta y propia destrucción.

Cuando Nicolás oyó por primera vez cuanto el Padre lo amaba, la idea la entendía porque él ya había visto a su propio padre demostrarle amor. Pero para Demetrio, Samuel y Rut, que nunca habían tenido un padre, ni menos uno como el que Nicolás había descrito, era una idea distantemente incomprensible y a la vez una maravillosa y llamativa descripción de un amor que no conocían.

Caminando colina arriba hasta llegar a Belén, empezaron un paso más ligero así como sus corazones latían, sabiendo que pronto verían otra vez el sitio donde Dios había, como hombre, tocado por primera vez el Mundo menos de trescientos años antes. Pronto estarían pisando tierra que era verdaderamente santa.

 

Capítulo 10 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Ya era de noche cuando finalmente llegaron a su destino. Demetrio los guió por la ciudad de Belén al lugar donde generaciones de peregrinos habían ya venido a ver dónde Jesús nació: una pequeña cueva que había sido tallada de la ladera de una colina dónde los animales se podían acorralar para que no se escaparan.

No había señal para marcar el lugar, ningún monumento o edificio para indicar que uno estaba delante del lugar donde el Dios del universo había llegado como un niño. Aún era peligroso en todo el imperio romano confesarle a alguien que uno era cristiano, aunque las leyes contra serlo eran impuestas sólo ocasionalmente.

Pero eso no detenía a aquellos que verdaderamente profesaban conocer a Cristo de continuar honrando a Aquel que ellos servían como su Rey. Aunque Jesús les enseñó a sus discípulos que ellos deberían respetar a los gobernantes terrenales, si los forzaran a escoger entre adorar a Cristo o a Cesar, ambos los cristianos y el mismo Cesar sabían a quien los cristianos adorarían. Así que el enfrentamiento continuaba.

Lo único que indicaba que verdaderamente este era un sitio santo era la bien usada senda colina arriba que llevaba a un creyente a la cueva. Diez miles de peregrinos ya habían llegado a este lugar en los últimos doscientos cincuenta años. Los habitantes de Belén lo conocían bien, pues era el mismo lugar que se les había enseñado a los peregrinos por generaciones desde los días de Cristo.

Mientras Demetrio guiaba a los otros tres por la senda a la cueva, Nicolás se rió calladamente y después en alta voz. Los otros dieron una vuelta para ver qué era lo que lo había hecho reír tan de improviso. ¡Hasta él mismo se había sorprendido! Aquí estaba en el lugar más santo que anhelaba ver, y se estaba riendo.

Nicolás dijo, “Estaba pensando en los reyes magos que vinieron a Belén a ver a Jesús. Seguramente subieron por esta misma colina. Me imagino lo grandioso que eran, montados en sus camellos y trayendo sus regalos de oro, incensio y mirra. Por un instante me imaginaba que yo era uno de esos reyes montado en un camello. De repente pisé en la senda el excremento de una oveja. ¡En un instante el olor me regresó de nuevo a la realidad que no soy nada de grandioso!”

”Sí,” dijo Rut, “pero no nos dijo usted que los ángeles habían hablado con los pastores primero, y que ellos fueron los primeros en ir a ver al bebé? ¡Entonces, tener el olor de excremento de oveja no le hace parecer a uno de los reyes, pero le hace parecer a aquellos que Dios trajo al pesebre primero!”

“Bien dicho, Rut,” Nicolás dijo. “Tienes absolutamente la razón.”

Rut sonrió al contemplar su idea, y entonces sus ojos les dieron saber que tenía otra idea. “Pero, ¿tal vez nosotros también debemos traer un regalo, como los reyes magos?” La idea la motivaba, como si verdaderamente se preocupaba por no tener nada que traerle al Rey. Era cierto que Él ya no estaba ahí para recibir su regalo, aún ella estaba cautivada con los cuentos de Jesús que Nicolás les decía por el camino. Ella pensaba que por lo menos tenían que traerle algún regalo.

“¡Miren!” les dijo la niña señalando un lugar en la colina a una distancia de ellos. Dejó la senda y en unos momentos había regresado con cuatro pequeñas y delicadas flores doradas, una para cada uno de ellos. “Me parecen como si fueran de oro.”

De pronto ella sonrió ampliamente y le dio a cada uno un regalo para llevarle a Jesús. Nicolás sonrió también. Siempre hay algo que podemos darle, él pensó. Sea el oro de una mino o el oro de una flor, le traemos a Dios sólo lo que ya es suyo, no es cierto?

Y con sus regalos en mano, llegaron a la entrada de la cueva, y entraron en ella.

 

Capítulo 11 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Nada podía haber preparado a Nicolás a sentir la fuerte emoción que lo llenó al entrar en la cueva.

En el suelo delante de él había un pesebre de madera improvisado, un cajón para darles de comer a los animales, seguramente muy parecido al que fue usado para poner a Jesús la noche que nació. Aparentemente alguien lo había puesto allí como una memoria de lo que había ocurrido allí. Pero para Nicolás el resultado fue profundo.

Un momento él se reía de sí mismo y miraba a Rut recoger flores de la colina, y el próximo momento, al ver el pesebre, se encontró arrodillado, llorando sin control al pensar en lo que había ocurrió en ese mismo lugar.

Pensó en todo lo que toda su vida él había oído decir de Jesús—de cómo él había curado a los enfermos, caminado sobre el agua y levantado a un muerto. Pensó en las palabras que Jesús había hablado—palabras que resonaban con el peso de autoridad como el autor de la misma vida. Pensó en sus propios padres que habían ofrecido sus vidas por aquellos que amaban para servir a este Hombre llamado Jesús que había muerto también por ellos.

Los pensamientos le llenaban completamente la mente de tal manera que Nicolás sólo podía llorar con sinceras lágrimas. Le salían del alma. También, muy profundo dentro de él, Nicolás se sintió conmovido como nunca en la vida se había sentido. Era una sensación que le provocaba una respuesta, una acción. Era un sentimiento tan diferente a cualquier otro que jamás había tenido, pero sin duda alguna, había ahora un paso que Nicolás tenía que tomar, como si una puerta se abriera delante de él y él sabía que tenía que entrar por ella. Pero, ¿cómo?

Como una respuesta a su pregunta, Nicolás recordó la flor dorada en su mano. Sabía exactamente lo que tenía que hacer y él quería hacerlo con todo deseo.

Levantó la flor en su mano y la puso delicadamente en el piso delante del pesebre de madera. La flor dorada ya no era solamente una flor. Era un símbolo de su propia vida, ofrecida al servicio del Rey.

Nicolás se quedó arrodillado allí por varios minutos rindiéndose a la sensación que en el momento sabía, mientras la experimentaba, que lo cambiaría por el resto de la vida. No se daba cuenta de nada en su alrededor. Lo único que sabía era que tenía que servir a este Rey, a este Hombre que ciertamente era Hombre en todo sentido, pero que también era uno con Dios, la propia naturaleza de Dios mismo.

Como despertándose lentamente de un sueño, Nicolás empezó otra vez a darse cuenta de su ambiente. Se fijó en Demetrio y Samuel a su izquierda y en Rut a su derecha, también arrodillados. De haber visto a Nicolás arrodillarse, ellos también hicieron lo mismo. Ahora miraban de Nicolás al pesebre delante de él.

La emoción que había llenado a Nicolás ahora los llenaba a ellos también. Ellos se imaginaban lo que él sentía, sabiendo de su devoción a Jesús y lo que les había costado a sus padres seguirlo a Él. Cada uno de ellos, de su propia manera, empezó a sentir dentro de sí lo que era sentir tal amor y devoción.

Al ver a Nicolás colocar su flor delante del pesebre, ellos empezaron a sentir el mismo deseo. Si Cristo era tan importante para Nicolás, entonces definitivamente también querían seguir a Jesús. Nunca en la vida ellos habían sido amados como Nicolás los había amado esos últimos tres días. Pero a pesar de todo sabían que el amor que Nicolás les había mostrado no se originaba sólo en él, pero en Dios a quien Nicolás servía. Si este era el efecto que Jesús hacía sentir en sus siervos, entonces ellos también querían servir a Jesús.

Cualquier duda que Nicolás había tenido en su fe antes de ese día, todas habían desaparecido en esos momentos eternos. Nicolás había llegado a ser, verdaderamente, un creyente.

Y desde ese primer momento de poner totalmente su fe y confianza en Jesús, él ya estaba inspirando a otros a hacer lo mismo.

 

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PARTE 3

 

Capítulo 12 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Una vez más, Nicolás estaba sólo frente al mar. Esta vez, sin embargo, estaba en la orilla de la Tierra Santa, mirando hacía el Gran Mar y hacia su tierra natal.

En los meses después de su visita a Belén, Nicolás, junto con su joven guía y guarda espaldas, habían buscado todos los sitios santos posibles relacionados con Jesús. Habían vuelto a trazar los pasos de Jesús de su infancia en el pueblo de Nazaret hasta las aldeas pescadoras en Capernaúm, donde Jesús había vivido de mayor.

Ellos habían puestos sus pies en el agua del río Jordán donde Jesús había sido bautizado y habían nadado en el Mar de Galilea donde Él había caminado en el agua y calmado la tormenta.

Ellos habían visitado el monte donde Jesús había hablado del reino de los cielos, y se habían maravillado en el lugar done Él había dividido los cinco panes y los dos peses para darle de comer a la multitud de más de cinco mil personas.

Aunque fue en Belén donde Nicolás se llenó de asombre y adoración, fue en Jerusalén done se llenó de misión y propósito. Al caminar por las calles donde Jesús había llevado Su cruz al lugar de su propia crucifixión, Nicolás sintió el peso en los hombros como si también cargara la cruz. Entonces, al ver el monte donde Jesús había muerto, y la cercana tumba vacía donde Jesús había resucitado de la muerte, Nicolás sintió desaparecer el peso sobre los hombros, como Jesús se habría sentido al salir de la tumba donde lo habían sellado.

Fue en ese momento cuando Nicolás supo cual sería su misión y su propósito en la vida: señalar a otros a Él que también era capaz de levantar sus cargas. Quería mostrarles que ellos ya no tenían que llevar solos las cargas del pecado, del dolor, de la enfermedad y de la necesidad. Quería mostrarles que ellos podían arrojar sus preocupaciones sobre Jesús, y saber que Jesús se interesaba en ellos. “Vengan a mí, todos ustedes que están cansados y agobiados,” Jesús había dicho, “y yo les daré descanso.”

Los cuentos que Nicolás había oído de niño ya no eran imágenes imprecisas y lejanas de lo que podía haber ocurrido. Eran cuentos que habían tomado nueva vida para él, cuentos que ahora eran de tres dimensiones y de todo color. No era sólo que ahora había visto estos sitios con sus propios ojos. Otros ya habían hecho eso, y algunos hasta vivían allí en ese lugar, pero aún nunca habían sentido lo que Nicolás sentía. La diferencia en Nicolás era que él veía esos cuentos por medio de ojos de fe, por medio de ojos de un creyente, como uno que ahora verdaderamente creía todo lo que había ocurrido.

A medio que su aventura de viajar a cada uno de los sitios sagrados concluía, Nicolás regresó al lugar donde por primera vez había sentido la presencia de Dios tan fuertemente: a Belén. Sentía que para prepararse mejor para el nuevo llamamiento de su vida, debía pasar tan cuanto tiempo posible viviendo y aprendiendo en esta tierra tan especial. Mientras exploraba la ciudad de Belén y lo que la rodeaba, encontró otra cueva cerca, en la ciudad de Beit Jala, que era parecida a la cueva donde Jesús había nacido. Empezó a vivir en esa cueva con la esperanza de vivir y aprender lo más posible de todo lo que había en esta tierra donde su Salvador había vivido.

Demetrio, Samuel y Rut también habían sentido una nueva misión y propósito en la vida. Aunque querían haberse quedado con Nicolás, se sentían obligados a continuar su importante obra de guiar a más personas a ver estos sitios santos. Ya no era solo para ganarse la vida, pero ahora sabían que era un llamamiento sagrado, un llamamiento para ayudar a otros sentir lo que ellos habían sentido.

Ya habían pasado cuatro años desde que Nicolás había llegado a esta orilla del Gran Mar. Durante esos años, a menudo él veía a sus jóvenes amigos traer más y más peregrinos a ver lo que ellos le habían mostrado a Nicolás. En esos años que pasaron tan rápido, él vio a cada uno de ellos crecer en “sabiduría y estatura, gozando del favor de Dios y toda la gente,” igual que Jesús lo había hecho en su infancia en Nazaret.

A Nicolás le hubiera encantado quedarse allí más tiempo, pero el mismo Espíritu de Dios que lo había traído a ese lugar, ahora lo atraía a regresar a su pueblo. Sabía que no podía mantener esa experiencia santa para siempre. Había gente que lo necesitaba, y una vida que lo esperaba en su pueblo en la provincia de Licia. Lo que le esperaba esa vida, él no lo sabía. Con sus padres ya muertos, había poco que lo atraía a su hogar, pero era simplemente el Espíritu de Dios que lo movía hacía delante en la próxima fase de su viaje.

Buscar un barco para regresar era más difícil que encontrar uno para venir a este lugar porque los mares en calma del verano estaban al terminar y las primeras tormentas de otoño estaban al llegar. Pero Nicolás estaba convencido que ese era el momento, y sabía que si esperaba más tiempo, tal vez no llegaría a su destino hasta la primavera—y la atracción del Espíritu era demasiado fuerte para demorar.

Así que cuando supo que un barco estaba a punto de llegar en cualquier momento, uno de los últimos de la temporada de viaje entre Alejandría y Roma, rápidamente él hizo planes para viajar. El barco había de llegar la próxima mañana, y él sabía que no podía quedarse atrás.

Había mandado un recado por medio del dueño de una tienda a sus tres amigos diciéndoles que se embarcaría por la mañana. Pero aún al anochecer él no había tenido ninguna noticia de ellos.

Entonces estaba solo enfrente al mar pensando en todo lo que había ocurrido y en todo lo que había cambiado su vida desde el momento de llegar a la Tierra Santa—y en todo lo que cambiaría al embarcar de allí. Esos pensamientos lo llenaban de emoción, anticipación y hasta, sinceramente, de miedo.

 

Capítulo 13 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Aunque el barco de Nicolás llegó la siguiente mañana como esperaba, los niños no habían llegado.

Esa tarde, cuando era el momento de embarcar, los tres aún no habían llegado. Nicolás tristemente, había renunciado la posibilidad que se encontraran otra vez. Empezó a caminar hacia el barco, cuando sintió que alguien lo halaba de la manga.

“¿Es usted cristiano?” se le dirigió una voz otra vez, pero esta vez con más madurez que cuatro años antes. Era Demetrio, claro. Nicolás dio una vuelta enseguida y sonrió con una amplia sonrisa.

“¿Qué si soy cristiano? ¡Sin duda.” Dijo al ver a los tres niños también con sonrisas. “¿Y ustedes?” añadió, preguntándoles a sus tres amigos.

“¡Sin duda!” contestaron los tres, casi a la vez. Así era como hablaban de su fe desde haber compartido esa experiencia en Belén, la experiencia cuando sus dudas acerca de Dios habían desaparecido.

Mientras Nicolás contemplaba las tres caras una vez más, pensó en qué era más difícil: dejar esta preciosa tierra, o dejar a estos precios jovencitos que había conocido allí. Sabían que Dios los había llamado para un propósito, y ellos confiaban que Dios ahora los llamaba a separarse para otro propósito también, como cuatro años antes Nicolás sentía llamado a vivir en Belén y ellos a continuar llevando a los peregrinos de ciudad a ciudad.

Pero aún sabiendo la voluntad de Dios era difícil someterse a ella. Como Nicolás a veces les recordaba, las lágrimas indicaban el amor más fuerte del mundo. Sin lágrimas, cuando uno pierde lo que le importa más, sería difícil decidir si esas cosas eran verdaderamente importantes.

La falta de lágrimas no sería el problema hoy. Una vez más Nicolás les pidió que pusieran su mano derecha delante de ellos. Al poner su mano en el bolsillo para poner tres monedas grandes en sus manos abiertas, no pudo hacerlo tan rápido como esperaba. Al instante los tres jovencitos habían puesto sus brazos completamente alrededor del cuello, la espalda y la cintura de Nicolás, según la altura de cada niño. Cada uno lo abrazaba fuertemente y por mucho tiempo, cuando uno de los marinos del barco le dijo a Nicolás que ya era hora de embarcar.

Mientras Nicolás abrazaba a cada uno de ellos una vez más, en secreto les puso una moneda en cada uno de sus bolsillos. Durante el tiempo que habían pasado juntos, los regalos de Nicolás habían ayudado a los niños inmensamente. Pero no eran los regalos de Nicolás que los bendecían tanto como su presencia—su deseo de pasar tanto tiempo con ellos. Aún, Nicolás quería darles una última bendición que ellos iban a descubrir después de despedirse y, como siempre, él daba sus mejores bendiciones en secreto.

Nicolás no sabía si reír o llorar al darles este último regalo, así que hizo las dos cosas. En silencio también ofreció una oración de agradecimiento por cada una de sus vidas, entonces se despidió de cada uno de ellos por última vez. Los abrazos de los niños fue la mejor despedida al pisar en el barco y dirigirse a su pueblo—sin saber que sus abrazos y sus palabras dulces también lo ayudarían a llevarlo a través de los días tenebrosos que él estaba a punto de enfrentar.

 

Capítulo 14 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

El viento azotó el barco tan pronto como había salido de la orilla. El capitán del barco esperaba adelantar el viaje antes que la tormenta llegara, navegando unas horas por la costa al puerto de la próxima ciudad y pasar la noche allí. Navegar por la costa del Gran Mar prolongaba el viaje, deteniéndose en los puertos de cada ciudad en vez de seguir directamente al destino final. Pero navegar directamente era también más peligroso, especialmente en esta estación del año. Así que para evitar el invierno cercano, y la anticipada tormenta, querían navegar cada día lo más posible.

Nicolás se dio cuenta que mantener fechas previstas era más que un asunto del deseo del capitán para cumplir el contrato con los clientes. Era también un asunto de vida o muerte para las familias del equipo del barco que venían a bordo, incluyendo la familia del capitán. Nicolás llegó a saber que una escasez de comida se realizaba por todo el imperio, ahora afligiendo la ciudad de Roma. El hambre había comenzado en las áreas rurales ya que había escasez de lluvia en los alrededores, pero la escasez ya empezaba a disminuir las reservas en Roma también. Los precios subían, pero aún las familias que podían comprar la comida rápidamente reducían sus recursos para obtenerla.

El capitán del barco no era un hombre ignorante, ya que él había navegado estas aguas por casi treinta años. Pero también sabía que el riesgo de detener el viaje en este momento podía paralizarlo hasta pasar el invierno. Si eso pasara, la carga de grano se destruiría para la primavera, al igual que su familia. Así que era preciso que el barco siguiera adelante.

A Nicolás le parecía que la decisión de seguir navegando era beneficiosa. Él también sentía el deseo de continuar con el viaje, aunque no era familia ni carga que se lo causaba. Era el mismo Espíritu de Dios. No podía explicárselo a nadie, menos a los que ya lo habían sentido. Lo único que sabía era que continuar el viaje era importante.

Había pensado pasar más tiempo en la Tierra Santa, quizás hasta su vida entera. Se sentía a gusto allí desde el principio porque había oído tantos cuentos del lugar toda su niñez. No tenía mucha familia que lo esperaba en ningún otro lugar, y hasta este momento, estaba contento en quedarse donde estaba, si no fuera por el impulso del Espíritu indicándole que era hora de salir.

Ese sentimiento le empezó como una inquietud al principio, sentía que ya no estaba tan a gusto en quedarse donde estaba. No podía proyectar el sentimiento a algo en particular que le estorbaba donde estaba, sólo que ya era tiempo de salir de allí. Pero, ¿adónde? ¿Adónde quería Dios que él fuera? ¿Tenía Dios otro sitio que debía ver? ¿En otra parte del país que debía vivir? Tal vez, ¿otro país que debería visitar?

Mientras la inquietud le crecía, su corazón y mente empezaron a explorar las opciones en más detalles. Había aprendido en el pasado que el mejor modo de escuchar a Dios era deshaciéndose de su propia voluntad, para dedicarse totalmente a la voluntad de Dios, fuera lo que fuera. Mientras dejar atrás su voluntad siempre era difícil, él sabía que Dios lo guiaría por sendas mejores. Finalmente, dejando su propia voluntad, Nicolás empezó a ver la voluntad de Dios más claramente aún en esta situación. Aunque sentía que la Tierra Santa era su nuevo hogar, verdaderamente no era su hogar. Sentía con seguridad que ya era la hora de regresar a su región natal, a la provincia de Licia en la costa norte del Gran Mar. Había algo, sentía él, que Dios quería que él hiciera allí—algo que por lo cual se había preparado y había sido llamado, y era, en efecto, la razón que Dios había escogido para que él creciera allí desde su niñez. Tal como Nicolás había sentido alivio cuando fue a la Tierra Santa, ahora se sentía aliviado al regresar a su pueblo.

A su pueblo se dirigía, y a su pueblo tenía que ir. Ese impulso interno que sentía era tan fuerte—y hasta más fuerte—como el impulso que obligaba al capitán y el equipo del barco a llevar al pueblo la carga, sana y salva, a sus queridas familias.

Tormenta o no, tenía que seguir adelante.

 

Capítulo 15 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

El barco de Nicolás no pudo llegar al próximo puerto en la costa. Al contrario, con el deseo de navegar delante de la tormenta, se encontraron en el medio de ella. La tormenta azotaba el barco llevándolo lejos de la costa en las primeras horas del viaje, y empujando el barco más y más lejos de la costa, hasta que tres horas más tarde se encontraba prisionero en sus olas.

El equipo ya había bajado las velas abandonando todo esfuerzo de guiar el barco con el timón en dirección contraria. La esperanza era que en seguir el paso de la tormenta en vez de ir contra él podrían mejor mantener el barco a salvo. Pero esta opción también parecía llevarlos dentro de aguas más profundas y peligrosas manteniéndolo cerca del ojo de la tormenta.

Después de tres horas los mareos que al principio los pasajeros y el equipo tenían ya no era la preocupación. Ahora el miedo de morir los llenaba a todos, menos a los más valientes a bordo.

Aunque Nicolás había viajado en barco antes, no se consideraba uno de los más valientes. Él nunca había sentidos olas como estas azotar un barco. Y él no era el único. Al empeorarse la tormenta, cada hombre decía que esta era la tormenta más terrible que jamás había visto.

La próxima mañana cuando la tormenta aún azotaba, y también la próxima, y la próxima aún, y las olas los tiraba de lado a lado, todos pensaban cual había sido la razón de la prisa en tratar de navegar delante de la tormenta. Ahora ellos solo esperaban y oraban que Dios los permitiera vivir para poder presenciar sólo un día más, una hora más. Mientras ola tras ola golpeaba el barco, Nicolás sólo oraba que Dios los permitiera resistir una ola más.

Los pensamientos y oraciones de Nicolás se llenaban de curiosidad sobre las experiencias del Apóstol Pablo, ese creyente en Cristo que había navegado de ida y vuelta por el Gran Mar tantas veces en barcos semejantes a este. Fue en el último viaje de Pablo a Roma que había puesto pie en Mira, solo a unos kilómetros del pueblo de Nicolás. Entonces, al continuar de Mira a Roma, se enfrentó con una de las tormentas más violentas que había sufrido en el mar, una rabiosa furia que duró más de catorce días y terminó en que las olas destrozaran su barco llevándolo a fondo en un banco de arena, cerca de la costa de la isla de Malta.

Nicolás oró que esa batalla con el viento no durara catorce días. No sabía si podrían pasar aún un solo día más. Trató de pensar si Pablo había hecho algo para poder salvar su vida y las de los doscientos setenta y seis hombres en la tripulación que navegaban con él, aunque el barco y la carga se habían perdido. Pero con lo mucho que pensaba, lo único que recordó fue que un ángel se le había aparecido a Pablo la noche antes de que el barco se echara a fondo. El ángel le dijo a Pablo que se animara—que aunque el barco se destruiría, ninguno de los hombros a bordo iba a morir. Cuando Pablo les contó a los marinos de la visita angélica, todos se armaron de valor, porque Pablo estaba convencido que iba a suceder como el ángel se lo había dicho. Y así fue.

Pero a Nicolás no se le apareció ningún ángel. No había consecuencia celestial ni consejo alguno de lo que ellos deberían o no deberían hacer. Lo único que sintió fue esa obligación interna que había sentido antes de apartar del puerto—que necesitaban llegar al destino en cuanto antes.

Sin saber qué más hacer, Nicolás recordó el dicho de su padre: “Mandatos corrientes son mandatos beneficios.” Si un soldado no sabía qué hacer a continuación, aunque la batalla a su alrededor le parecía cambiar de origen, si el comandante no había cambiado el mandato, entonces el soldado debía continuar con el mandato más corriente. Mandatos corrientes son mandatos beneficios. Fue este dicho sabio de su padre, más que cualquier otro pensamiento que guiaba a Nicolás y le daba el valor para hacer lo que hizo después.

 

Capítulo 16 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Cuando la tormenta parecía estar a punto de vencerlos, Nicolás empezó a pensar en los niños que acababa de dejar. La visión de ellos no lo llenaba de tristeza sino de esperanza.

Él empezaba a animarse con los cuentos que ellos habían aprendido de Jesús calmando la tormenta, de Moisés dividiendo el Mar Rojo, y de Josué deteniendo la corriente del Río Jordán. Nicolás y los niños a veces se imaginaban cuál sería el resultado de poder controlar las fuerzas de la naturaleza de tal manera. Hasta Nicolás mismo, en algunas ocasiones, había intentado hacerlo, así como Demetrio, Samuel y Rut. Cuando llovía, levantaban las manos y oraban para detener la lluvia. Pero sólo continuaba lloviendo mojándoles la cabeza. Cuando llegaron al Mar de Galilea, trataron de caminar sobre el agua, así como Jesús lo había hecho—y hasta Pedro lo hizo, aunque fue por sólo unos momentos. Nicolás y los niños presumían que ellos no tenían suficiente fe o fuerzas o cualquier otra cosa necesaria para poder hacer tales cosas.

Aún mientras otra ola azotaba el barco donde Nicolás ahora estaba, se dio cuenta que estos cuentos tenían algo en común. Tal vez no era la fe que causaba el problema, pero el momento divino. En cada cuento que recordaba, Dios no permitió esos milagros por capricho como para entretener a aquellos que intentaban hacerlos. Dios los permitió porque Dios tenía sitios que tenían que visitar, personas que tenían que ver y vidas que tenían que ayudar. En cada situación había algo urgente que requería hacer no sólo lo que las personas querían hacer por su cuenta, pero lo que Dios mismo en su corazón quería hacer.

Le parecía que los milagros se habían hecho no sólo en el deseo de reorganizar el mundo de Dios, pero en el deseo de Dios de reorganizar el mundo de los fieles. A Nicolás le parecía que era una combinación de orar en fe, más la voluntad divina de Dios, que causaba esa chispa entre el cielos y la tierra y, encendida por ambos deseos a la vez unidos, que había explotado en un poder que era capaz de mover montañas.

Cuando Jesús tenía que cruzar el lago, pero los discípulos ya habían salido en el bote, Él pudo encender, por medio de fe, el proceso que lo dejó caminar en el agua, y a la vez calmar la tormenta que amenazaba quitarles la vida cuando por fin llegó a donde estaban ellos.

“Mandatos corrientes eran mandatos beneficiosos,” Nicolás recordó, y él creía con todo su ser que si Dios no había cambiado el mandato, entonces ellos tendrían que hacer todo lo necesario para llegar al otro lado del Gran Mar. Pero no era suficiente que sólo fuera la voluntad de Dios. Dios buscaba a alguien dispuesto, aquí en la tierra, que también tuviera esa voluntad, de modo que se completara la conexión divina y causara que el milagro explotara. Como Moisés cuando levantó su vara en lo alto o cuando los sacerdotes de Josué tomaron el primer paso al entrar en el Río Jordán, Dios necesitaba a alguien que estuviera de acuerdo con su voluntad en plena fe que lo que Él deseaba en el cielo ocurriría aquí en la tierra. Dios ya le había dicho a Nicolás lo que debería ocurrir. Ahora le tocaba a Nicolás completar la conexión divina.

“¡Oigan, todos!” Nicolás gritó para llamarle la atención a la tripulación. “¡El Dios que yo sirvo y que nos ha dado a cada uno de nosotros la vida, quiere que nosotros lleguemos a nuestro destino más que nosotros mismos lo queremos. Debemos de estar de acuerdo en fe, aquí y en este momento, no sólo que Dios es capaz de hacerlo, pero que su voluntad es que lo hagamos. Si ustedes aman a Dios, o por lo menos si creen que lo desean amar, quiero que oren conmigo, que verdaderamente lleguemos a nuestro destino y que nada se enfrente con nuestro viaje!”

Tan pronto como Nicolás dijo esas palabras, lo inexpresable ocurrió: no sólo el viento no dejó de soplar, pero se impulsó. Nicolás se detuvo por un momento, como si hubiera cometido un error cósmico o fallado en calcular a Dios y lo que Él quería que hiciera. Pero entonces se dio cuenta que aunque el viento había aumentado, también había cambiado de dirección ligeramente, pero de tal distinta y evidente forma que Dios les había llamado la atención a todos a bordo. En vez de ser golpeado por las olas por los dos lados, ahora el barco navegaba por medio de ellas, como si un canal había sido segado en las mismas olas. El barco se movía de ese modo, no sólo por unos momentos, pero por las próximas horas.

Cuando la velocidad y dirección del barco continuaban su firme y impresionante curso, el capitán se acercó a Nicolás. Le dijo que nunca en la vida había visto tal cosa. Le parecía como si una mano invisible estaba a cargo del timón del barco, firme y derecha, aunque nadie estaba a cargo de las cuerdas amarradas al timón, ya que habían abandonado controlarlo cuando los vientos empezaron a soplar a lo máximo.

Nicolás sabía también—aunque ciertamente no tenía la experiencia del capitán—que esto no había sido un fenómeno normal en alta mar. Él había sentido algo fuera de lo corriente tomando control desde el momento que se había dirigido a la tribulación, y lo sentía aún mientras seguían adelante.

Lo que había por delante, él no lo sabía. Pero lo que sí sabía era que Él que los había traído hasta aquí no quitaría su mano del timón hasta terminar lo que intentaba desempeñar.

 

Capítulo 17 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

La tormenta que amenazaba terminar sus vidas, resultó en salvar muchas más. En vez de seguir la distancia más alejada por la orilla, la tormenta los había llevado directamente por el centro del mar, directo por las partes más peligrosas que ellos no se habrían sometido por su cuenta en esa temporada del año.

Al ver tierra al amanecer del quinto día, supieron con seguridad donde estaban. Era la ciudad de Mira, sólo a unos kilómetros del pueblo de Nicolás, y la misma ciudad donde el Apóstol Pablo había cambiado de barco en su famoso viaje a Roma.

Estaban tan cerca a su pueblo que Nicolás supo dentro de sí que estaba a punto de tocar pie en el lugar exacto donde Dios quería que él estuviera. Dios, sin duda alguna, le había salvado la vida para un propósito que ahora empezaría el próximo capítulo de su vida.

Al navegar más cerca a la costa, se dieron cuenta que la tormenta que los azotaba en alta mar, apenas se había realizado en la costa.

Las lluvias que habían inundado el barco los últimos días, y que también deberían haber estado saciando la tierra, no la habían mojado por varios meses. La sequía que el capitán y los marinos le habían dicho a Nicolás que había en Roma, ya se había realizado en Licia por dos años y medios. El sumo resultado era que la cosecha que habría de llenar los almacenes para el invierno entrante y para proporcionar las semillas para el próximo año ya se habían agotado. Si la gente de Lira no conseguía grano para comer ahora, muchos no podrían sobrevivir el invierno, y muchos más morirían la próxima primavera, ya que no tendrían semilla para sembrar otra cosecha. El barco era uno de los últimos que pudo salir de la tierra fértil de Egipto antes del invierno, y llegar en este momento y con esta necesitad le parecía a la gente como un milagro. Ciertamente había sido la respuesta a sus oraciones.

Pero la respuesta no era tan simple para el capitán del barco. Él tenía órdenes precisas de los encargados de los almacenes del Imperio Romano que ni una semilla de todo el grano había de desaparecer al llegar el barco a Roma. El barco se había pesado en Alejandría antes de partir de Egipto y de nuevo se pesaría en Roma—y el capitán personalmente sería responsable de cualquiera diferencia. La escasez de comida había aumentado la preocupación del emperador por traer alivio a su pueblo. No solamente eso, pero las familias del capitán y los marinos esperaban la llegada de la comida. Sus empleos y las vidas de sus familias, dependían de la segura llegada de cada grano a bordo.

Pero aún, sin la fe y el apoyo de Nicolás, el capitán sabía que el barco y la carga se habrían perdido en alta mar, así como sus vidas.

Aunque Nicolás sabía ciertamente que Dios lo había regresado a su pueblo, no estaba totalmente seguro que hacer acerca de la necesidad de grano. Aunque le parecía que ofrecerle por lo menos parte de la carga a la gente de Mira sería lo correcto, Nicolás aún lo contemplaba del punto de vista de Dios. ¿No estaba esta ciudad, o cualquiera otra en el imperio, con la misma necesidad de la carga que Roma que la había comprado y pagado para que se la entregaran? Pero a Nicolás también le parecía que el barco había sido llevado específicamente a esta ciudad en particular, en ruta directa y precisa en medio de las enormes olas.

La decisión de lo que se debería hacer en ese momento tomó lugar sólo dentro de unos minutos de haber llegado a la orilla. Y Nicolás y el capitán tuvieron poco tiempo para pensar en las opciones de lo que iban a hacer porque los habitantes ya corrían para ver el barco con sus propios ojos, cada uno maravillado del modo que Dios aparentemente lo había traído a su puerto hambriento. Se reunían en grupos más y más grandes para darle la bienvenida al barco y a la vez, darle las gracias y la adoración a Dios.

Ambos, Nicolás y el capitán sabían que sólo Dios mismo podía resolver el problema. Los dos, así como la tripulación, ya habían convenido la noche anterior—mientras velozmente y sin fuerzas humanas el agua los agitaba—que lo primero que harían al llegar a tierra sería ir a la parroquia más cercana y darle gracias a Dios por rescatarlos. Al ver donde habían llegado, Nicolás sabía exactamente donde estaba la parroquia. Era una que su familia había visitado de vez en cuando al viajar entre las dos ciudades de Patara y Mira. Después de decirle a la tripulación que su primera obligación era la de darle gracias a Dios por traerlos a ese lugar con toda seguridad, Nicolás, el capitán y los marinos partieron para la parroquia de Mira.

Al cruzar la ciudad y subir la colina donde estaba acunada la parroquia, no tenían idea que los clérigos dentro sus muros ya habían estado batallando con una batalla propia.

 

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PARTE 4

 

Capítulo 18 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

El próximo paso de la vida de Nicolás estaba a punto de determinarse por medio de un sueño. Pero no fue uno que Nicolás había soñado—fue un sueño que Dios había concebido y había puesto en el corazón de un hombre, un clérigo de la ciudad de Mira.

Las semanas antes de llegar Nicolás a Mira, una tragedia había sucedido en la parroquia del pueblo. El anciano obispo, el dirigente de la parroquia, había muerto. La tragedia que había sucedido no era la muerte del obispo, pues había vivido una larga y productiva vida y simplemente se había sometido a los efectos de la edad. La tragedia era la disputa que resultó a causa de quién tomaría el puesto de ser el próximo obispo.

Aunque parecía que tal problema se podía resolver amistosamente, especialmente dentro de una parroquia, cuando es asunto de los corazones humanos, la lealtad y el deseo personal muchas veces confunden a la gente tanto que no pueden distinguir cual es la voluntad de Dios en cierta situación. Es difícil para todos, hasta para la gente religiosa, mantener sus mentes fuera de ideas premeditadas y preferencias personales con respeto a lo que Dios quiere o no quiere hacer en tal momento.

Este debate era la tormenta que ahora se agitaba ya por una semana, y la cual había llegado a su ápice la noche antes de llegar Nicolás.

Esa noche uno de los clérigos había tenido un sueño que lo había despertado repentinamente. En su sueño vio a un hombre que nunca había visto y que claramente iba a tomar las responsabilidades del querido y difunto obispo. Cuando despertó del sueño, no recordaba nada de la apariencia del hombre, pero solo recordaba su nombre: Nicolás.

“¿Nicolás?” preguntó uno de los otros clérigos al oír del sueño de su compañero. “Ninguno de nosotros jamás hemos usado ese nombre, ni tampoco hay nadie llamado Nicolás en toda la ciudad.”

Nicolás no era, por cierto, un nombre popular en esa época. Solo se mencionó de paso en el evangelio de de Lucas cuando se estableció la iglesia, así como otros nombres también fuera de lo común en esos días en Mira, nombres como Prócaro, Nicanor, Timón, Parmenas. A los otros clérigos les parecía ridículo la posibilidad que este sueño fuera divino. Pero el clérigo mayor les recordó, “Hasta el nombre de Jesús se lo había dado un ángel a su padre en un sueño.

Tal vez era este testimonio del evangelio o tal vez era la falta de posibilidad que jamás ocurriera, que los clérigos decidieron que verdaderamente considerarían a la próxima persona que entrara por la puerta y respondiera al nombre de Nicolás. Ciertamente sería beneficioso para romper la situación en que se encontraban de no poder seguir adelante.

¡Cuál fue su sorpresa entonces, cuando al abrir la puerta principal para las oraciones matutinas, ellos se encontraron con la tripulación entera de un barco a punto de entrar en la parroquia!

Los clérigos saludaron a cada hombre al entrar por la puerta, dándoles la bienvenida a la parroquia. Los últimos dos por entrar fueron el capitán y Nicolás, ya que habían dejado entrar a todos los otros hombres primero. El capitán les dio las gracias a los clérigos por dejarlos compartir sus oraciones matutinas con ellos, entonces, refiriéndose a Nicolás les dijo, “Y gracias a Nicolás por tener la brillante idea de venir aquí hoy.”

Los asombrados clérigos se miraron los unos a los otros sin poder creerlo. Tal vez Dios les había contestado sus oraciones al cabo.

 

Capítulo 19 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Al llegar a la parroquia la preocupación del capitán de qué hacer con el grano en el barco desapareció tan pronto como había desaparecido la tormenta al llegar a la orilla.

Dentro de unos momentos de haber comenzado las oraciones matutinas, él ya estaba convencido que solo podía haber sido la mano de Dios que había sostenido el timón del barco derecho y cierto. Ahora ya sabía que quería presentarle a la gente del pueblo una ofrenda del grano en el barco. Dios le había hablado de ambos, el plan y la cantidad. Era como si el capitán estuviera desempeñado el papel de Abran en el muy antiguo cuento de Abran ofreciéndole parte de su riqueza al sacerdote Melquisedec.

El capitán estaba dispuesto a correr el riesgo con sus superiores en Roma en vez de correrlo con el Dios que los había rescatado a todos ellos. Sabía que sin ser guiados y dirigidos por Dios hasta este punto del viaje, ni él ni la tripulación ni el barco ni la carga podrían llegar hasta Roma.

Cuando el capitán se levantó después de las oraciones, enseguida buscó a Nicolás para compartir la repuesta con él también. Nicolás estaba de acuerdo con el plan y la cantidad. El capitán le preguntó, “¿Le parece que será suficiente para toda esta gente?”

Nicolás le respondió, “Jesús pudo darles de comer a cinco mil personas con solo cinco panes y dos peces—y la cantidad que usted quiere darle a esta ciudad es mucho más de lo que Jesús tenía para empezar.”

“¿Cómo fue que lo hizo?” se preguntó el capitán a sí mismo y a la vez a Nicolás.

“Lo único que sé,” respondió Nicolás, “es que Él miró hacia el cielo, dio gracias y empezó a repartir la comida con sus discípulos. Al fin todos estaban satisfechos y aún tenían de sobra doce canastas llenas.”

“Entonces eso es exactamente lo que haremos también,” dijo el capitán.

Y en el pueblo se contaría por muchos años como el capitán del barco miró hacia el cielo, dio gracias y empezó a repartir el grano con sus marinos. Fue suficiente para satisfacer a la gente del pueblo por dos años enteros y para sembrar y cosechar aún más el tercer año.

Al despedirse los clérigos del capitán y la tripulación, le pidieron a Nicolás que se quedara con ellos por un tiempo. Los vientos de confusión que habían azotado y después cesado dentro de la mente del capitán no serían nada comparado con la tormenta que estaba a punto de formalizarse en la mente de Nicolás.

 

Capítulo 20 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Cuando los clérigos le dijeron a Nicolás acerca del sueño y que tal vez él sería la respuesta de sus oraciones, Nicolás se quedó pasmado y sorprendido, emocionado y confuso. Muchas veces había querido ser usado por Dios con gran poder, y era indiscutible que Dios ya lo había traído por medio del Gran Mar a este lugar en este momento.

Pero ser clérigo, mucho menos obispo, sería una decisión que lo influiría toda la vida. Había pensado en seguir el negocio de su padre terrenal. Él había tenido mucho éxito en su carrera, y Nicolás se imaginaba que también podía hacer lo mismo. Pero aún más importante que continuar la carrera de su padre era tener una familia como su padre la había tenido.

Los recuerdos que Nicolás tenía de sus padres eran tan tiernos que él anhelaba tener recuerdos con su propia familia. Sin embargo, Nicolás sabía que la costumbre de todos los clérigos era privarse del matrimonio y de tener hijos para dedicarse totalmente a las necesidades de la gente a su alrededor.

Nicolás de detuvo mentalmente al pensar en la posibilidad de tener que renunciar el deseo de tener su propia familia. No era que el tener una familia era un sueño que él dejaba correr a menudo por su mente, pero era una de esas suposiciones en el fondo de su alma que él daba por hecho y que ocurriría en el futuro.

La sorpresa de tener que renunciar la idea de tener una familia, hasta antes de totalmente haber pensado en tener una, era como un sobresalto a su ser. “¡Seguir la voluntad de Dios no debe ser tan difícil!” pensó él. Pero él había aprendido de sus padres que echar atrás el deseo personal por el de Dios no era siempre fácil. Esa fue otra enseñanza que habían aprendido de Jesús.

Entonces, sólo por ser una decisión difícil no era suficiente razón para echarla de su mente. La imagen también corría por su mente de esos tres niños sonrientes que había conocido al pisar en la orilla de la Tierra Santa, con sus caras al suelo y las manos extendidas. ¿No le habían parecido como familia a él? ¿Y no había cientos—hasta miles—de niños igual a ellos, niños sin familias, sin que nadie los cuidara, sin que nadie se ocupara de sus necesidades?

Y ¿no había muchísimos más en el mundo—viudas y viudos y esos que tenían familia sólo en nombre pero sin una relación personal—que aún necesitaban ayuda y apoyo y el sentir de una familia a mano? ¿Y no había también otras familias como la de Nicolás, que habían sido felices pero hallaban aún más felicidad al reunirse en el pueblo como una familia de creyentes? Rendirse a la idea de tener una familia propia no significaba que tenía que rendirse a la idea de tener una familia del todo. De hecho, era posible que él tuviera una familia aún más grande de este modo.

Mientras más Nicolás pensaba en lo que tenía que rechazar para servir a Dios en la parroquia, más pensaba en como Dios podía usar este nuevo puesto en modos que ni las ideas ni el deseo de Nicolás se podían imaginar. Y si Dios de veras era parte de la decisión, tal vez tendría su propia recompensa al final.

La furia de la tormenta que corría por su mente comenzó a reducirse. En su lugar, la paz de Dios empezó a fluir sobre su mente y su corazón a la vez. Nicolás de dio cuenta que era la paz de la divina voluntad de Dios revelándose claramente en él. Sólo tomó un momento más para saber cuál sería su respuesta.

La tormenta que al principio lo amenazaba de tal manera—fuera la tormenta en el mar o la tormenta en la parroquia o la tormenta en la mente de ambos el capitán y Nicolás—ahora en vez se había vuelto en una bendición de Dios. Eran bendiciones que de nuevo le demostraban a Nicolás que no importaba lo que pasara, Dios verdaderamente dispone todas las cosas para el bien de quienes lo aman, los que han sido llamados de acuerdo con Su propósito.

Sí, si lo clérigos lo necesitaban, Nicolás sería el próximo obispo de Mira.

 

Capítulo 21 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Nicolás no llegó a ser un hombre diferente al momento de tomar el puesto de obispo. Llegó a ser obispo por ser el hombre que él era. Como lo había hecho con su padre muchos años antes, Nicolás continuó haciéndolo ahora y aquí en la ciudad de Mira y en los pueblos cercanos: caminar y orar y pedirle a Dios que le mostrara dónde podía usarlo de máximo beneficio.

Fue en una de esas piadosas caminatas que Nicolás llegó a conocer a Ana María. Era una bella niña de once años, pero para otros su belleza estaba escondida por su pobreza. Nicolás se encontró con ella un día que ella intentaba de vender flores que ella había hecho de hojas de hierba entrelazadas. Pero la belleza de las flores también a todos estaba escondida pero no a Nicolás, ya que a nadie le interesaba su simple creación.

Al tomar un paso hacia ella, Nicolás pensó en la pequeña Rut, la niña que él había dejado en la Tierra Santa, aguantando en su mano las flores doradas de la colina de Belén.

Cuando se detuvo para verla mejor, Dios le habló al corazón. Le parecía sentirse como Moisés se habría sentido cuando se detuvo para mirar la zarza ardiente en el desierto, el momento cuando su curiosidad humana llegó a ser un enfrentamiento divino con el Dios viviente.

“Tus flores son bellas,” le dijo Nicolás. “¿Me permites tomar una?”

La niña le entregó una de sus creaciones. Mientras la veía, él también observaba a la niña. La belleza que veía en ambas, la flor y la niña, era asombrosa. De alguna forma Nicolás tenía el don de ver lo que otros no podían ver, o no veían, porque Nicolás siempre pretendía ver a la gente y las situaciones y la vida del punto de vista de Dios, como si Dios estuviera observándolo todo por medio de sus ojos.

“Me gustaría comprar ésta si es posible,” le dijo.

Encantada, la niña sonrió por primera vez. Le dijo el precio y él le dio la moneda.

“Dime,” le dijo Nicolás, “¿Qué piensas hacer con el dinero que te ganes vendiendo estas bellas flores?”

Lo que Nicolás oyó siguiente le partió el corazón.

Ana María era la menor de tres hermanas: Sofía, Cecilia y Ana María. Aunque su padre las amaba entrañablemente, su negocio que una vez había tenido mucho éxito, tristemente había terminado en fracaso, y pronto después su esposa había fallecido. Sin las fuerzas ni los recursos de poder levantarse de nuevo de esa oscuridad, la situación de su familia llegó a ser cada día más y más seria.

La hermana mayor de Ana María, Sofía, acababa de cumplir diez y ocho años, y su belleza causaba que muchos galanes se interesaran en ella. Pero ninguno se casaría con ella porque su padre no tenía dote que ofrecerles a ninguno de los pretendientes. Y sin dote, había poca posibilidad que Sofía o sus hermanas llegaran a casarse.

Las opciones delante de su padre eran lúgubres. Sabía que tenía que llegar a una decisión pronto para no arriesgar la posibilidad que Cecilia y Ana María no se casaran tampoco en el futuro. Sin poder ofrecer una dote apropiada, y también siendo demasiado orgulloso para aceptar caridad de otros, aunque otros tuvieran los recursos que ofrecerle, su padre estaba a punto de hacer lo que nadie se podía imaginar: iba a vender a su hija mayor como esclava para poder resolver el caso.

Cómo pensar que ésa era la mejor solución que el padre tenía a su disposición, Nicolás no se lo podía imaginar. Pero también sabía que la desesperación nublaba hasta el hombre con mejores intenciones. Al sacrificar a su hija mayor de esta manera, el padre pensaba que de alguna manera podía salvar a las menores de tal destino.

Ana María, por su parte, había inventado la idea de hacer y vender flores para intentar de prevenir ese destino de su hermana que a ella le parecía peor que la muerte. Nicolás se reprimió las lágrimas por respeto a Ana María y el esfuerzo noble que hacía para salvar a su hermana.

También se abstuvo de comprar al momento la cesta llena de flores de Ana María, porque él sabía que se necesitaba más que una cesta llena de flores para salvar a Sofía. Se necesitaba un milagro. Y mientras Dios le hablaba al corazón ese día, Nicolás sabía que Dios lo podría usar para producirlo.

 

Capítulo 22 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Sin exhibición ni jactancia, Nicolás ofreció una oración por Ana María, y junto con las gracias por la flor, él la animó diciéndole que continuara haciendo todo lo posible por su familia—y que continuara confiando que Dios iba a hacer lo que ella no podía hacer.

Nicolás sabía que él podía ayudar a esta familia. Sabía que tenía los recursos para mejorar su situación. Aún todavía tenía escondida en un acantilado cerca de la costa suficiente de la herencia que sus padres le habían dejado y esperaba la oportunidad para usarla en ocasiones como estas. Pero, él también sabía que el padre de Ana María era demasiado orgulloso para aceptar caridad de un hombre, aún si fuera su hora más afligida.

La humillación del padre de haber perdido su negocio, así como su pérdida personal, lo habían cegado a la realidad de lo que le estaba a punto de suceder a su hija mayor. Nicolás quería ayudarlo, ¿pero cómo? ¿Cómo podía darle una mano sin humillar más al padre de Ana María, posiblemente causando que rechazara la ayuda que Nicolás le podía ofrecer? Nicolás hizo lo que siempre hacía cuando necesitaba sabiduría. Se puso a orar. Y antes de anochecer, ya tenía la respuesta.

Nicolás le puso mano al plan—y sin detenerse mucho. Ocurría que el día siguiente era cuando el destino de Sofía se sellaba.

Sacando la cantidad adecuada de monedas de su reserva, Nicolás la puso en una bolsa pequeña. Era suficientemente pequeña para llevarla en una mano, pero suficientemente pesada para asegurar que exactamente podía resolver la situación de la familia.

Escondido bajo la oscuridad de la noche, cruzó la ciudad de Mira hacia la casa donde Ana María, su padre y sus dos hermanas mayores vivían.

Podía escuchar hablar a las muchachas adentro al acercarse en silencio a la casa. Naturalmente, su estado de ánimo era deprimido mientras hablaban de cuál sería su cierto futuro. Le pedían a Dios que les diera la fuerza necesaria para hacer lo que tenían que hacer a continuación.

Por muchos años, Sofía y sus hermanas habían soñado en el día cuando cada una de ellas conocería al hombre de sus sueños. Hasta ya les habían escrito canciones de amor a esos hombres, confiando que Dios en su perfecto tiempo les traería a cada una de ellas el hombre perfecto.

Ahora les parecía que todos sus cantos, todas sus oraciones y todos sus sueños habían sido en vano. Sofía no era la única en sentir el impacto de la nueva realidad, ya que sus dos hermanas menores sabían que el mismo destino tal vez les esperaba a cada una de ellas.

Las muchachas querían confiar en Dios, pero mientras más pensaban en su situación, cada una sentía que sus sueños se destrozaban.

Al pedírselo Ana María, las tres intentaron cantar su canción favorita una vez más, pero se entristecían más con la letra de la canción. Ya no era una canción de esperanza, pero una canción de desespero, y las palabras les parecían tan imposibles.

Ya no era una canción, pero una oración, y una de las oraciones más profundas que Nicolás había oído decir con labios humanos. El corazón se le partía por cada una de ellas, mientras a la vez le latía con temor. Él tenía un plan y esperaba que lo pudiera poner por encima, pero no estaba seguro. No se preocupaba por lo que le pasaría si fuera descubierto, pero se preocupaba que el padre rechazara el regalo si supiera de donde vino. Eso ciertamente sellaría el destino adverso de las muchachas. Al decirse las buenas noches—y el padre apagar las luces—Nicolás supo que ya era la hora de actuar.

Acercándose lentamente a la ventana abierta del cuarto donde ellas habían estado cantando, Nicolás se arrodilló. Lanzó la bolsa con las monedas por la ventana. La bolsa hizo un arco garboso sobre él y parecía detenerse en el aire por un momento antes de caer con un ruido sordo en el centro del cuarto. Varias de las monedas sueltas tintinearon silenciosamente al caer en el piso, rodando y después cesando. Nicolás dio una vuelta rápidamente y se escondió en la oscuridad cercana, a la vez que las muchachas y el padre se despertaron al oír el sonido.

Preguntaron si alguien estaba ahí, pero al no escuchar respuesta alguna, entraron en el cuarto por diferentes puertas. Cuando el padre encendió la luz, Ana María fue la primera en ver la bolsa—y se quedó con la boca abierta.

Allí, en el centro del cuarto, estaba una pequeña bolsa redonda, brillando con monedas de oro. Las muchachas se acercaron a su padre mientras él la recogió y la abrió.

Había más del oro suficiente para dar una buena dote para Sofía, con más de sobra para proporcionar las necesidades de la familia por un tiempo.

Pero, ¿de dónde había venido ese regalo? Las muchachas estaban segura que era de Dios mismo como para contestarles sus oraciones. Pero el padre quería saber más. ¿A quién había usado Dios para facilitárselo? Cierto era que no había sido ningún conocido. Salió corriendo de la casa perseguido por sus hijas, para averiguar quién se lo había dado, pero no pudieron encontrar a nadie.

Al regresar a la casa sin nadie a quien devolverle el dinero, las muchachas y el padre se arrodillaron para darle gracias a Dios por su salvación.

Mientras Nicolás escuchaba en la oscuridad, él también le dio gracias a Dios, porque eso era exactamente lo que él esperaba que ellos hicieran. Él sabía que el regalo verdaderamente había sido de Dios, procedido de Dios y dado por Nicolás a medio de la sugerencia de Dios como respuesta a sus oraciones. Nicolás solo les había dado lo que Dios le había dado a él principalmente. Nicolás no quería ni necesitaba el agradecimiento ni el reconocimiento del regalo. Solo Dios merecía la alabanza.

Pero al dejar que Nicolás tomara parte en la acción y usara sus propias manos y herencia para bendecir a otros, el nuevo obispo sintió un gozó que casi no podía contener. Al entregar el regalo él mismo, Nicolás aseguraba que fuera correctamente dado. Y al dar el regalo anónimo, él aseguraba que el verdadero dador del regalo fuera correctamente reconocido.

El regalo fue enviado y Dios recibió el reconocimiento. Nicolás había logrado sus dos metas.

 

Capítulo 23 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Mientras Nicolás prefería hacer sus obras de caridad en secreto, había veces que por necesidad, tuvo que hacerlas a la vista. Y aunque eran sus obras secretas que fueron más apreciadas por Dios, eran sus obras públicas que fueron más apreciadas por los hombres.

Mucha gente, apropiadamente, aprecia a un caballero con armadura brillante, pero no todos quieren ser libres de la maldad—especialmente aquellos que se ganan la vida de eso.

Uno de esos hombres fue un alcalde mayor de Mira, un gobernante de la ciudad al cual Nicolás no le caía nada bien—ni nadie que tratara de detenerlo en hacer lo que él quería hacer.

El alcalde mayor era a la vez corrupto y corruptible. Estaba dispuesto a hacerlo todo para adquirir lo que quería sin conciencia del costo a los demás. Aunque Nicolás ya había tenido discordias con él varias veces en el pasado, su conflicto con él había escalado a punto alto cuando supo que el gobernante había condenado a muerte a tres hombres—por un crimen que Nicolás estaba seguro que ellos no habían cometido. Con gran anticipación, esta vez a Nicolás no le fue posible esperar hasta que noche lo cubriera. Sabía que tenía que actuar inmediatamente para librar a estos hombres de la muerte.

Esa tarde Nicolás estaba atendiendo a varios generales de Roma cuyos barcos habían llegado al puerto de Mira la noche anterior. Nicolás había invitado a los generales a su casa para saber noticia de varios cambios que estaban ocurriendo en Roma. “Un emperador nuevo está a punto de tomar el poder del imperio,” ellos le dijeron, “y las consecuencias pueden ser graves para usted, señor obispo, y para todos los discípulos de Jesucristo.”

Fue durante el almuerzo que Nicolás oyó decir de la sentencia injusta y la muerte inminente de los tres hombres inocentes. Inmediatamente se puso en camino hacia el lugar donde iban a llevar a cabo la muerte. Los generales, al darse cuenta del alboroto que ocurriría, lo siguieron.

Cuando Nicolás entró de golpe en el lugar donde ocurriría la muerte, los condenados ya estaban en la plataforma. Estaban amarrados y de rodillas con el cuello y la cabeza abajo lista para la espada del verdugo.

Sin pensar en su propia vida, Nicolás brincó sobre la plataforma y le arrebató la espada de la mano al verdugo. Aunque Nicolás no era pendenciero, Nicolás actuó tan rápidamente que el verdugo no hizo mucho para agarrar la espada de nuevo de la mano del obispo.

Nicolás sabía que estos hombres eran tan inocentes como el alcalde mayor era culpable. Estaba seguro que habían sido sus hechos de caridad y no falsos, que habían ofendido al gobernante. Delante todos los curiosos, Nicolás desató las sogas que amarraban a los inocentes, desafiando a la vez al verdugo y el alcalde.

El gobernante vino a donde estaba Nicolás y se puso delante de él. Pero al hacerlo, los generales que estaban almorzando con Nicolás también se acercaron. Uno tomó su puesto a la derecha de Nicolás, otro a la izquierda y el tercero precisamente enfrente a él. Con toda prudencia, el alcalde mayor dio un paso atrás. Nicolás sabía que era hora de insistir que dijera la verdad.

Aunque el gobernante trató de defenderse, sus súplicas cayeron en oídos sordos. Ya nadie creía sus mentiras. Intentó de convencer a la gente de que él no era el que quería condenar a los hombres, pero que dos negociantes del pueblo le había dado un soborno para condenar a los hombres. Pero al tratar de poner la culpa sobre otros, se condenó él mismo con la avaricia que tenía en el corazón.

Nicolás declaró, “Me parece que no eran esos dos hombres que lo habían corrompido a usted, Señor Alcalde, pero otros dos hombres—llamados Oro y Plata.

Arrepentido, el alcalde mayor empezó a llorar y a confesarse delante de todos ésta y todas las otras maldades que había hecho, hasta por hablar con malicia de Nicolás, el cual sólo había hecho bien a todo el pueblo. Nicolás puso en libertad a más de tres prisioneros ese día, ya que hasta el alcalde mayor por fin se había liberado de su avaricia con su honesta confesión. Al ver el verdadero cambio del gobernante, Nicolás lo perdonó, para siempre adquiriendo el favor de él—y el de la gente—de ese momento en adelante.

Cuando Nicolás nació sus padres le pusieron el nombre de Nicolás, que significa en griego “el vencedor del pueblo.” Por medio de hechos come estos, Nicolás llego a ser “el vencedor del pueblo” en nombre y en hecho.

Nicolás ya llegaba a distinguirse—hasta en sus propios tiempos.

 

Capítulo 24 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Dentro de tres meses de haber recibido la dote inesperada de Nicolás, Sofía había recibido una visita de un pretendiente—uno que le parecía perfecto. Verdaderamente él era la respuesta a sus oraciones, y ella estaba agradecida, feliz y, por fin, casada.

Dos años después, sin embargo, la hermana menor de Sofía se encontró también en la misma situación. Aunque Cecilia ya tenía la edad para casarse, el negocio de su padre no había mejorado con tanto que había trabajado en él. Al acabarse el dinero que Nicolás le había dado a la familia, ellos estaban a punto de desesperación. El orgullo y la tristeza otra vez cegaban la realidad de la situación, y el padre sentía que su única opción era vender a Cecilia como esclava esperando poder remediar el destino de su tercera y última hija.

Aunque sabían por cierto que Dios les había contestado sus oraciones una vez, las circunstancias les causaban dudar que Él lo hiciera de nuevo. Un segundo rescate ahora era más de lo que ellos podían esperaran o imaginarse.

Sin embargo, sabiendo la situación más íntimamente ahora, Nicolás sabía que Dios le estaba pidiendo que intercediera de nuevo. Habían pasado dos años desde el primer rescate, pero en todo ese tiempo la familia no se daba idea ni había descubierto que él era el que les había entregado el regalo de Dios.

Mientras el tiempo se aproximaba en decidir qué hacer esta vez, Nicolás sabía que la hora había llegado de actuar de nuevo. Y para dejar saber claramente que su regalo tendría que ser usado primeramente y principalmente para la dote de Cecilia y después para cualquiera otra necesidad que la familia tuviera, él esperó actuar hasta la noche antes que la joven sería vendida a la esclavitud.

Una vez más, esperando a ser escondido por la oscuridad de la noche, Nicolás se acercó a la casa. Cecilia y Ana María se habían acostado temprano esa noche en obediencia a las ordenes de su padre, el cual les había dicho que no esperaran similar milagro como el que había sucedido con Sofía. Pero de alguna manera, en la profundidad de su desesperación, el padre aún tenía un poco de esperanza en su corazón—un deseo tal vez, más que otra cosa—que una persona realmente los estaba cuidando y que sus oraciones tal vez se contestarían. Con esa esperanza, decidió quedarse despierto y cerca de la ventana en caso que un ángel apareciera—fuera terrenal o celestial.

Nicolás tenía la impresión que eso sucedería, y también sabía que el padre de Cecilia rechazaría el regalo si supiera que Nicolás era el que lo daba. Pero también esperaba que el corazón orgulloso del padre, se hubiera emblandecido suficientemente para aceptar el regalo aunque fuera descubierto.

Al ver que la casa estaba perfectamente tranquila, Nicolás se arrodilló delante de la ventana abierta. Tiró la segunda bolsa de oro en el cuarto.

La bolsa apenas había tocado el piso cuando el padre de las muchachas corrió hacia la ventana por donde había venido, y alcanzó a Nicolás al tratar de escaparse. Del modo que el padre de las muchachas lo persiguió, uno hubiera pensado que Nicolás se había llevado una bolsa de oro en vez de haber dejado una.

Temiendo que todos sus esfuerzos fueran en vano, el corazón de Nicolás se tranquilizó al ver que el hombre no lo regañaba pero le daba las gracias sin apenas ver a quien había agarrado.

“Por favor, escúcheme,” le dijo el padre. “Solo quiero darle las gracias. Usted ha hecho tanto por mí y mi familia que yo no imaginaba recibir otro regalo. Pero su generosidad me ha abierto los ojos al vano orgullo en mi corazón—un orgullo que casi me ha costado la vida de dos hijas.”

El padre de de las muchachas habló sin aliento y rápidamente para asegurar que el desconocido lo escuchara antes de tratar de escaparse otra vez. Pero cuando alzó los ojos para ver con quien hablaba—Nicolás, el obispo—el asombro en la cara del padre fue evidente. ¿Cómo podía un clérigo tener suficientes recursos para dar un regalo como este?

Como respuesta a la pregunta que en realidad no se había preguntado en alta voz, Nicolás respondió, “Sí, fui yo el que le entregué este regalo. Pero fue Dios quien me lo dio para que se lo diera a usted. No es de la parroquia y no es caridad mía. Vino de mi padre que lo ganó honestamente con su propio sudor. Él era un negociante como usted. Y si estuviera vivo hoy día, hubiera querido dárselo él mismo, estoy seguro de eso. Él, más que cualquiera otra persona, sabía lo difícil que era tener un negocio, igual que usted lo sabe. Él también amaba a su familia igual que usted ama la suya.”

Nicolás dejó de hablar para que sus palabras penetraran el corazón del padre antes de continuar. “Pero por favor, por mí y por Dios, quiero que usted sepa que fue Dios mismo que contestó sus oraciones—porque Él lo ha hecho—yo sólo soy un mensajero de Él, un enviado, una herramienta en Sus manos, dejando que Él haga por medio de mi lo que yo sé que Él quiere hacer. Por mi parte, yo prefiero dar caridad en secreto sin que la mano derecha sepa lo que la izquierda está haciendo.”

La mirada en la cara de Nicolás era tan sincera y daba su intención con todo amor y devoción a Quien él servía, que el padre de las muchachas solo pudo aceptar el regalo de Nicolás como si verdaderamente había venido de la mano de Dios mismo.

Pero al despedirse, las muchachas y el padre apenas podían contener su gratitud porque Nicolás también se había dejado usar por Dios de manera tan admirable.

Por todo lo que Nicolás trataba de intentar que la alabanza fuera solo a Dios, también sabía que él tenía un papel que desempeñar en sus vidas. Aunque Dios instigue a muchos a ser generosos de corazón, no todos responden a ese inicio como Nicolás lo hacía.

Nicolás esperaría ver cómo le iba a la familia los próximos años para ver si necesitaba alguna ayuda para Ana María también.

Pero Nicolás no tuvo esa oportunidad. El nuevo emperador por fin había tomado el poder, y la vía de la vida de Nicolás estaba a punto de cambiar de nuevo. Aunque Nicolás a menudo rescataba a otros, había veces, como le había pasado al mismo Señor que él seguía, que le parecía que no podía rescatarse a sí mismo.

 

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PARTE 5

 

Capítulo 25 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Cuando Jesús nació, hubo un rey que se sentó tan amenazado por este niñito que dio la orden de matar en Belén y su vecindad a todos los niños de dos años y menores. Trescientos tres años después, otro rey se sentía igualmente amenazado por Jesús y sus seguidores.

El nombre del nuevo rey era Diocleciano, y él era el emperador de todo el imperio romano. Aunque los romanos habían matado a Jesús cientos de años antes, Diocleciano aún se sentía amenazado por los cristianos fieles a Jesús. Diocleciano mismo se había declarado dios y él quería que todos en el imperio lo adoraran.

Aunque los cristianos eran algunos de los mejores cumplidores de las leyes del imperio, ellos no podían someterse a adorar a Diocleciano. El emperador consideraba eso una insurrección, un acto que se tenía que detener en la forma más severa. Al llegar Diocleciano al supremo poder, emitió una serie de edictos para quemar todas las Biblias, destruir todas las parroquias cristianas, y encarcelar, torturar, y matar a todos los que seguían a Cristo.

Aunque la persecución de cristianos ya ocurría por muchos años bajo el poder del imperio romano, ninguna de esas persecuciones se comparaba con la que ocurrió bajo el reino de Diocleciano. Personalmente, Nicolás no le temía a Diocleciano, pero como siempre, el temía lo que le podía pasar a los cristianos de su parroquia.

Teniendo un papel tan evidente en la parroquia, Nicolás sabía que lo centrarían a él primero, y si lo eliminaran, temía lo que le sucedería a los que él había dejado. Pero Nicolás ya había decidido que hacer. Sabía que si aunque lo mataran, podía confiar que Dios llevaría a cabo su intención en la tierra fuera o no fuera Nicolás parte de ella. Era la fe fundamental que él tenía y su confianza en Dios y Su propósito que lo ayudarían a mantenerse firme en los difíciles años por delante.

En vez de esconderse para evitar el cierto destino que lo esperaba, Nicolás decidió defender su posición. Juró que mantendría las puertas de la parroquia abierta de par en par invitando a todos los que querían entrar. Y cumplió su promesa por lo tanto que pudo hasta el día en que los que entraron fueron soldados—soldados que venían a buscarlo.

 

Capítulo 26 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Nicolás ya estaba listo cuando los soldados llegaron. Sabía que ya no tendría que pensar más en la decisión que había hecho de dejar las puertas de la parroquia abiertas. Desafortunadamente, también habían terminado los días de su parroquia, ya que los soldados cerraron las puertas para siempre.

Con toda la buena voluntad que Nicolás había creado con la gente del pueblo en sus años en Mira, y hasta con los soldados de allí, estos no eran soldados locales que habían venido por él. Diocleciano los había enviado con la petición que sus ordenes fueran llevadas a cabo sin pregunta alguna, y que aquellos que no las llevaban a cabo sufrirían el mismo fin que los castigados.

Los soldados le dieron a Nicolás una oportunidad más de rechazar su fe en Cristo y de adorar a Diocleciano en vez, pero Nicolás, por supuesto, la rechazó. No era que él quería desobedecer la autoridad de Roma, porque sabía bien que fue el mismo Cristo que les enseño a sus discípulos la importancia de honrar a aquellos en autoridad y honrar las leyes. Pero, rechazar que Jesús era Señor y Salvador sería como rechazar que el sol había salido esa mañana. Él simplemente no podía hacer eso. ¿Cómo podía rechazar la existencia de Él que le había dado vida, que le había dado fe y que le había dado esperanza en las horas más oscura de su vida? Si los soldados tenían que llevárselo, entonces bien. Decir que un humano como Diocleciano era Dios, y que Jesús era cualquier cosa menos que Dios, era inconcebible.

Nicolás sabía que era apropiado sentir ese temor ya que había sido dado por Dios para deshacerse de peligro y para protegerlo de cualquiera cosa que dañaría su cuerpo. Pero ahora mismo, al ser brutalmente arrastrado, Nicolás deseaba eliminar esos temores.

“Dios mío, ayúdame,” dijo mientras que las cadenas con que los soldados lo amarraban se hundían en sus muñecas. Este era el principio de un nuevo peregrinaje para Nicolás—un peregrinaje que duraría más que sus años en la Tierra Santa.

Era difícil comparar los dos peregrinajes en la forma del impacto que causaron en su vida. Pues, ¿Cómo se podría comparar un viaje hecho por voluntad propia—uno en el que se puede ir y venir por cuenta propia y se puede regresar en cualquier instante—con uno que es forzado sin voluntad propia—uno que hasta el salir afuera para ver el sol estaba bajo el control de otra persona y no propio?

Pero aún Nicolás se dio cuenta de poder sentir la presencia de Dios de modo parecido, y hasta superado, a todo lo que había sentido en la Tierra Santa. Como había aprendido de otros creyentes, a veces uno no se da cuenta que lo único que se necesita es Jesús hasta que Jesús es lo único que tiene.

Durante el tiempo de su encarcelamiento, cada vez que se abría la puerta de la celda, Nicolás no sabía si los guardias habían venido para liberarlo o para condenarlo a muerte. No sabía si el día que despertaba iba a ser el último. Pero, el resultado de esa inseguridad fue que Nicolás llegó a darse cuenta de lo breve que es la vida, igual que del continuo conocimiento de la presencia de Dios.

Nicolás supo que al cerrar los ojos podía sentir la presencia de Dios como nunca antes la había presenciado. Su celda no era una cárcel—era un santuario. Y lo único que Nicolás quería hacer era mantenerse en la presencia de Dios lo más posible. Después de un tiempo Nicolás no tenían ni que cerrar los ojos. Sencillamente sabía que siempre estaba en la presencia de Dios.

Ciertamente, sus días en la cárcel también estaban repletos del dolor más agudo que se podía sentir en un infierno terrenal. Los soldados constantemente lo azotaban con interrogaciones para que renunciara su fe. El dolor que le producían variaba entre pincharlo con tenazas calientes y darle una severa paliza y al fin echarle sal y vinagre en las heridas. Como resultado ya Nicolás tenía la espalda llena de cicatrices permanentes. La falta de higiene en la cárcel le causaba enfermedades que nunca había tenido antes. A veces hasta pensaba que morir sería mejor que el sufrimiento que sentía allí.

Fue durante uno de esos momentos, tal vez el más oscuro de los cinco años que había pasado en la cárcel hasta ese momento, que la puerta de su celda se abrió. Una luz entró en ella, pero al examinarla más detalladamente, vio que no era la luz del sol, ya que sabía aún dentro de la aislada celda que era la media noche.

La luz que entraba en la celda era la de una sonrisa, una sonrisa en la cara del joven amigo de Nicolás, ahora ya hecho un hombre. Era la luz en la cara alegre de Demetrio.

 

Capítulo 27 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Durante su tiempo en la cárcel, Nicolás había visto pocas caras y menos aún una que le diera ánimo. Al ver una sonrisa en la cara de alguien, y más en una cara que Nicolás amaba tanto, lo lleno de verdadero gozo.

A Demetrio no le había sido fácil encontrar a Nicolás. Demetrio había venido a Mira sabiendo que él había tomado un puesto en la parroquia de la ciudad. Pero habían pasado muchos años desde que él había sabido de su viejo amigo, tiempo que Demetrio también había pasado en la cárcel. Al ser liberado recientemente, Demetrio navegó por el Gran Mar en busca de Nicolás. Demetrio tuvo que investigar mucho para encontrar a Nicolás, pero había viajado demasiado para rendirse sin ver a su viejo amigo y consejero, la primera persona que le había hablado del amor de Cristo.

Usando los conocimientos de la calle que había aprendido como guía en la Tierra Santa, Demetrio pudo desenvolverse a través y alrededor de casi todo el mundo y todas las cosa que trataban de impedirlo. El empeño que él tenía, más la mano de Dios que guía, ayudaron a Demetrio a encontrar a su amigo y a encontrar esta puerta que él abrió esa noche para gozar de esta visita tan especial. Fue la visita que a Nicolás le parecía como la visita de un ángel celestial.

Después de cerrar la puerta detrás de ellos, y después de un fuerte abrazo, Demetrio se sentó en el suelo al lado de Nicolás. Se sentaron en silencio por varios minutos, ninguno de ellos tenía la necesidad de decir nada. En momentos santos como estos, no se necesitaban las palabras.

La oscuridad en la pequeña celda era tan intensa que ellos no atentaron de mirarse, pero sólo se sentaron allí lado a lado. Los ojos de Demetrio aún no se habían acostumbrado a la oscuridad total suficientemente para poder ver nada de todos modos, y Nicolás estaba contento solo en saber que su amigo estaba ahí a su lado. Nicolás podía oír el sonido de la respiración de Demetrio, un sonido que aumentaba su gozo al saber que su amigo aún estaba vivo y estaba con él en carne y hueso.

Nicolás respiró profundamente de nuevo y con el acto se le infundió un nuevo sentido de vida. Era un hálito de vida que su amigo no podía haber dejado de traer con él.

 

Capítulo 28 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

“¿Qué me dices de tus jóvenes guardaespaldas?” por fin Nicolás le preguntó, refiriéndose a Samuel y Rut. A menudo Nicolás oraba por los tres jóvenes porque los quería como si fueran sus propios hermanos menores.

Demetrio vaciló un momento. Miro a Nicolás pero no pudo decir ni una palabra. Estaba ansioso de contarle todo lo que había pasado en los últimos años—como Samuel y Rut seguían llevando a los peregrinos a los sitios sagrados, compartiendo con ellos las mismas buenas nuevas de Jesús que habían aprendido durante sus años con Nicolás.

Como Demetrio, Samuel y Rut tuvieron que dejar de guiar a los peregrinos cuando llegó la “Gran Persecución”, como la llamaban ahora. Los tres empezaron a pasar casi todo su tiempo cuidando de las necesidades de otros creyentes en Jerusalén, creyentes que se enfrentaban con encarcelamiento y muerte, igual que Nicolás. Como no estaban en posición destacada como Nicolás, ellos habían evitado detención mucho después que Nicolás. Pero finalmente fueron encarcelados, y repetidamente interrogados, azotados y torturados por la fe.

Samuel y Demetrio eran suficientemente fuertes para resistir el abuso, pero Rut era muy frágil. Un día después de someterla a abusos insuperables, regresó a ellos y se desplomó. Aunque obviamente había estado llorando a cause del dolor que sentía en el cuerpo, de algún modo también continuaba con una sonrisa en el corazón.

“¿Cómo es que lo haces?” le preguntó Samuel. “¿Cómo es posible que sonríes todavía después de todo eso?

Rut respondió, “Siento que he estado caminando y hablando con Jesús por tanto tiempo que ni la muerte en realidad cambiaría nada de eso. Simplemente continuaría caminando y hablando con Él para siempre.”

Rut sonrió de nuevo y Demetrio solo pudo devolverle la sonrisa. Pero su cuerpo se estaba dando por vencido y ella lo sabía. Sentía que sólo estaba al instante al pasar de esta vida a la próxima.

“¡No te puedes ir?” le dijo Samuel. “¡Tienes que quedarte aquí conmigo! Aún hay mucho que tenemos que hacer!” Pero la vida de Rut se deslizaba.

“!Si te mueres, oraré que Dios te resucite!” Samuel ya estaba desesperado queriendo mantenerla cerca de él. Pero Rut solo sonrió otra vez. Verdaderamente había encontrado el secreto de vivir la vida repleta, y nada, ni la muerte, le podía quitar eso.

Ella habló, más en silencio ahora, solo como un murmuro. “Ora que Dios me levante de la muerte, pero la verdad es que una vez ya fui levantada de la muerte, cuando conocimos a Nicolás, y él nos introdujo a Jesús, fui levantada de la muerte, y una vida nueva y repleta se me ha dado. De ahí en adelante, supe que viviría para siempre.”

Con eso, Rut pasó por la cortina entre la vida y la muerte y a la presencia del visible Dios. La sonrisa que adornaba su cara en vida continuaba brillando su cara en la muerte, y Demetrio sabía donde ella estaba. Simplemente, ella continuaba haciendo lo que siempre había hecho, caminando y hablando con Jesús, pero ahora lo hacía cara a cara.

Nicolás se sentó en silencio escuchándolo todo intensamente mientras Demetrio le contaba lo ocurrido. Por tanto que pensaba entristecerse, su corazón comenzó a alzarse en vez. Ciertamente, nada de esto le era nuevo, pero al oír de la fe de Rut, la suya se revivió de nuevo también.

Uno pensaría que un hombre como Nicolás no necesitaba que lo animaran en la fe. Él había ayudado a muchísimos a crecer en la fe, y, además, él era nada menos que un obispo. Pero Nicolás también sabía muy dentro de su corazón que era la gente como él que a veces necesitaba más ánimo en la fe. Gran fe, él sabía, no les viene a aquellos que no tienen dudas. Gran fe les viene a aquellos que han tenido que extender su fe para que creciera, si no se hubiera destrozado por completo. Al continuar confiando en Dios, sea lo que sea, Nicolás llegó a saber que uno podía derribar dudas en el camino oscuro que lo ayudaban a ascender aún más.

Tan triste como estaba por la muerte de Rut, Nicolás no pudo evitar una sonrisa de lo profundo de su corazón igual como Rut lo habría hecho el día que murió. Con gran alegría esperaba el día de poder ver a Jesús en persona, igual que Rut Lo veía ahora. Sin embargo, Nicolás amaba la obra que Dios le había dado que hacer en la tierra, también.

“No perdemos, ¿no es cierto?” dijo Nicolás con una sonrisa pensando en lo ocurrido. “O morimos y vamos al cielo a estar con Jesús, o vivimos y continuamos su obra aquí en el mundo. Con cualquier fin somos vencedores, ¿No es cierto? No importa el fin, ya somos vencedores.”

“Sí, con cualquier fin somos vencedores,” repitió Demetrio. “No importa el fin, ya somos vencedores.”

Durante las próximas hora, Nicolás y Demetrio compartieron cuentos de lo que Dios había hecho en sus vidas durante los años de separación. Pero nada había podido prepara a Nicolás para lo que Demetrio le estaba a punto de decirle después. Parecía que Demetrio había conocido a una muchacha. Y no era una muchacha cualquiera. Ella se llamaba Ana María.

 

Capítulo 29 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

En su viaje en busca de Nicolás, Demetrio hablaba con cualquiera persona que supiera dónde encontrarlo. Al llegar a Mira, primero fue a la parroquia donde Nicolás servía como obispo. Al no encontrarlo allí, Demetrio empezó a caminar por las calles para ver si se encontraba con alguien que supiera algo de él. Y con quién fue que Demetrio se encontró si no con la misma muchacha—ahora ya hecha una mujer—que Nicolás había conocido hace muchos años, vendiendo flores entrelazadas a cualquiera persona que las comprara.

Ella ya no estaba vestida en el manto de la pobreza. Demetrio inmediatamente observó a la vez la belleza del interior y del exterior de la muchacha. Él estaba tan impresionado con ella que no podía dejar de conversar con ella. Y ella también parecía estar impresionada con él. A ella no le parecía ser capaz de que un hombre de su importancia y fe quería hablar con ella. Él era, ella pensaba, el hombre más bueno e impresionante que ella había conocido.

Cuando Demetrio le dijo el propósito de venir a Mira—de encontrar al obispo llamado Nicolás—Ana María se quedó boquiabierta. ¿Cómo podía saber este hombre, este extranjero del otro lado del Gran Mar nada de Nicolás? Demetrio compartió con ella su experiencia de cómo él había conocido a Nicolás y como Nicolás lo había rescatado de su pobreza de fe. Ana María solo podía compartir lo que Nicolás había hecho por su familia también, salvar a sus dos hermanas mayores de la esclavitud tirando una bolsa de oro por la ventana para cada una de ellas la víspera de cumplir los diez y ocho años.

Pero de pronto la sonrisa de Ana María desapareció. Ahora, solo en unos días, ella cumpliría los diez y ocho años, pero a Nicolás se lo habían llevado a la cárcel hace cinco años. Nadie ni lo había visto ni había sabido de él en todos esos años. Ni ella misma sabía donde él estaba. Aunque su padre ya no era el mismo hombre que antes, ya que no pensaba en vender a Ana María a la esclavitud, él aún no tenía la dote que ofrecerle a un pretendiente. Sin una dote, como Demetrio bien sabía, el destino de Ana María sería difícil. Y con Nicolás encarcelado, no había la oportunidad de que él pudiera rescatar a su familia esta tercera vez. Ana María de nuevo había empezado a vender sus flores en la calle, y aunque eran más impresionantes que las primeras, ella apenas podía ganar lo suficiente para ayudar a la familia de vez en cuando con los gastos de la comida.

Demetrio la escuchó, y como Nicolás antes de él, supo dentro de unos minutos lo que Dios quería que él hiciera. Él podía ser la respuesta a las oraciones de Ana María, y con mucho más que una dote. Pero sabiendo que esas cosas tomaban tiempo, él solo guardó esas ideas en su corazón. Le compró una flor a Ana María y le dio las gracias por decirle lo que ella sabía de Nicolás. Al despedirse de ella, le prometió que volvería a hablar con ella otra vez en el futuro si él localizaba a su querido amigo.

La víspera del cumpleaños de Ana María, Demetrio fue al mismo lugar donde Nicolás se había escondido ya dos veces muchos años antes, debajo de la ventana abierta de la casa de Ana María. La conversación adentro era adolecida. Ana María y su padre oraban sabiendo que no había posibilidad de que Nicolás regresara de nuevo. Entonces apagaron las luces y se acostaron.

Demetrio esperó por lo que le parecía ser varias horas, sabiendo que no podía despertarlos y arriesgar su plan. Pues, él había ahorrado lo suficiente en sus años de trabajo en la Tierra Santa para fácilmente llenar una bolsa con monedas de oro para cubrir la dote. Pero él no podía simplemente darles el dinero, pues él tenía otras ideas además de sólo darles la dote. ¡Él quería que el padre de Ana María se lo devolviera algún día, como un regalo matrimonial! Tal vez sería difícil y sabía que necesitaría más tiempo para estar seguro que ella era la que él realmente amaba. Él también sentía que esta era la mejor manera de que todo se realizara al fin, aunque ella no fuera la verdadera mujer para él. Algo le presenciaba, sin embargo, que ella lo era. Y con esa idea en mente, él hizo lo que tenía que hacer.

Cuidadosamente y sin hacer ruido alguno, él alzó la mano hasta la repisa de la ventana y dejo caer la bosa en silencio en el piso. Nadie lo oyó ni nadie se despertó. Después de hacer esa obra para Dios y para su propio corazón, de nuevo continuó buscando a Nicolás. Dos semanas después, Demetrio había encontrado a Nicolás, y ahora compartía con él como él había conocido a la mujer de sus sueños.

La noticia no podía haberle caído más dulcemente en los oídos de Nicolás. Y de nuevo su corazón se alivió y se elevó, porque aunque aún encarcelado y fuera del mundo en su celda, Nicolás podía observar el fruto de sus oraciones—que fueron contestadas increíblemente de modo inesperado. Él aún podía cambiar el mundo, hasta desde la prisión, mientras el mundo trataba de detenerlo.

Antes de irse esa noche, Demetrio abrazó a Nicolás otra vez; y entonces desapareció. Desapareció por las puertas de la cárcel tan milagrosamente come había entrado.

Pasarían cinco años más antes de que Nicolás viera a Demetrio de nuevo. Diocleciano continuaba tratando de desesperar a los cristianos. Pero durante los años que Nicolás aún estaba en la cárcel, su alma se sintió más libre que nunca antes. Nadie podía dejar que Nicolás alabara a Jesús, ni nadie podía dejar que Jesús hiciera lo que Él quería hacer.

Cuando el día por fin llegó que Nicolás fue liberado, el guardia que abrió la puerta de su celda lo miró y dijo, “Es hora de salir. Estás en libertad.”

Nicolás solo miró al guardia con una sonrisa. Él ya había estado en libertad por un tiempo.

 

Capítulo 30 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Pensando que Nicolás no lo había oído, el guardia habló de nuevo, “Dije que estás en libertad. Ya puedes levantarte y regresar a tu casa.”

Al escuchar la palabra “casa”, Nicolás se emocionó. Él no había visto su casa, ni su parroquia, ni había escuchado la voz de otra persona además de la de Demetrio, en casi diez años. Se levantó y sus movimientos se aceleraron comprendiendo por fin las palabras del guardia.

“¿A casa?” exclamó Nicolás.

“Sí, a casa. Ya puedes regresar a tu casa. El emperador ha proclamado libres a todos los cristianos.”

El emperador a quien se refería era el nuevo emperador Constantino. Diocleciano había fallado en su deseo de constreñir a los cristianos. En vez de apagar su espíritu, Diocleciano lo había fortalecido. Como Nicolás, aquellos que no habían muerto habían crecido en la fe. Y mientras más fuerte era su fe, más fuerte era su influencia, siendo testigos a los ciudadanos cristianizados en medio de ellos. Hasta la misma esposa de Diocleciano y su hija se habían convertido a la fe cristiana.

Diocleciano dejó de gobernar el imperio y Constantino subió al poder.

Constantino cambió la situación de perseguir a los cristiano firmando el Edicto de Milán. Este edicto daba nueva tolerancia a la gente de toda religión y resultó en libertad para los cristianos. Elena, la madre de Constantino, era cristiana. Aunque nadie sabía si Constantino lo era también, la nueva tolerancia que él demostró estableció la libertad de adoración a cualquier dios y de cualquier modo que preferían, como se debería haber hecho desde el principio.

Por tanto que Diocleciano había cambiado el mundo romano para lo peor, Constantino ahora lo estaba cambiando para lo mejor. Sus reinos eran tan diversos como el día y la noche y servían como testigo de cómo una persona verdaderamente podía cambiar el curso de la historia—para el bien o para el mal.

Nicolás se daba cuenta, ahora más que antes, de que él tenía solo una vida por delante. Pero también se daba cuenta de que si la vivía correctamente, una vida era sólo lo que el necesitaba. Decidió en su corazón otra vez hacer todo lo posible para aprovechar al máximo todos los días, empezando de nuevo con el presente.

Mientras lo sacaban de su celda en la cárcel y lo llevaban a la ciudad de Mira, él pensó que no era coincidencia que la primera cara que vio fue la de Ana María.

La reconoció al momento. Pero por causa de los diez años en la cárcel, y lo mucho que se le había gastado la vida allí, a Ana María le fue difícil reconocerlo al instante. Pero tan pronto como vio su sonrisa, se dio cuenta enseguida que era la sonrisa de su viejo amigo Nicolás. ¡Claro que era Nicolás! Y estaba vivo y delante de ella.

Ella estaba tan sorprendida que no podía ni moverse. Dos niños estaban a su lado, mirando a su madre, y después al hombre a quién ella ahora miraba. Aquí estaba el hombre que había ayudado tanto a su familia y a ella. No podía contener el gozo. Volviendo la cabeza Ana María gritó. “Demetrio! ¡Demetrio ¡Ven pronto! ¡Es Nicolás!

De pronto ella empezó a correr hacia Nicolás, abrazándolo fuertemente. Demetrio salió de una tienda detrás de ellos, les echó una mirada a Nicolás y a Ana María y también empezó a correr hacia ellos, cargando a sus hijos mientras corría.

Ahora toda la familia abrazaba a Nicolás como si fuera un hermano o un padre o un tío que acaba de venir de la guerra. Las lágrimas y las sonrisas en sus caras se volvían una. El hombre que había salvado a Ana María y a su familia de un destino peor que la muerte había sido salvado de la muerte también. Y Demetrio sonreía, también, de ver a su buen amigo, y de ver lo contento que Nicolás estaba de verlo a él y a Ana María juntos con su nueva familia.

Nicolás tomó la cara de cada uno de ellos en sus manos—una a la vez—y miró profundamente en sus ojos. Entonces abrazó a cada uno de los niños. La semilla que él había sembrado años antes en las vidas de Demetrio y Ana María aún daban fruto, fruto que él ahora podía ver con sus propios ojos. Todo el esfuerzo que había puesto valía la pena, y nada menos que las sonrisas en sus caras eran claramente muestras de eso.

Por los próximos días y semanas, Nicolás y todos los creyentes liberados habían tenidos semejantes experiencias por toda Mira. Esos días eran como una larga y continua reunión de amigos y familias.

Nicolás, así como los otros que habían sobrevivido la Gran Persecución, seguramente le parecía a la gente de Mira ser como Lázaro en Betania cuando Jesús lo mandó a salir de la tumba—un hombre que había muerto, pero ahora estaba vivo. Y como Lázaro, estos cristianos no estaban solamente vivos, pero ellos traían mucha gente a fe en Cristo también, ya que su fe estaba viva de un modo nuevo. Lo que Diocleciano pensaba hacer para el mal, Dios pudo transformarlo para el bien. Estos embajadores de la fe habían surgido con una fe que era más fuerte que nunca antes.

Nicolás sabía que este nuevo nivel de fe, como todos los buenos dones de Dios, se les había dado por algún propósito, también. Por lo difíciles que habían sido las pruebas que él había enfrentado hasta ese momento, Dios lo estaba preparando para una aún más difícil.

 

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PARTE 6

 

Capítulo 31 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

“¿Y tú todavía no se lo has mencionado en todos estos años?” Nicolás le preguntó a Demetrio. Habían pasado doce años desde que Nicolás había salido de la cárcel, y ellos hablaban de la bolsa de oro que Demetrio había tirado por la ventana abierta de Ana María cinco años antes de salir de la carcel.

“Ella nunca me lo ha preguntado,” dijo Demetrio. “Además, si se lo hubiera dicho no lo habría creído. Está convencida que usted fue quien lo hizo.”

“¿Pero cómo pude ser yo cuando ella sabía que yo estaba encarcelado?” Era una conversación que ellos habían tenido antes, pero a Nicolás le parecía sorprendente. Demetrio insistía en mantener en secreto el acto de caridad, igual como Nicolás lo había hecho cada vez que era posible.

“Además,” añadió Demetrio, “Ella tiene razón. Verdaderamente fue usted el que me inspiró a darle ese regalo, ya que usted le había dado a su familia dos bolsas de oro de la misma forma que yo lo hice. Así que, en cierto sentido, vino de usted.”

Nicolás tuvo que admitir la lógica de Demetrio. “Pero no comenzó conmigo tampoco, fue Cristo el que me inspiró.”

Y con eso, Demetrio admitió y dijo, “Y fue Cristo el que me inspiró a mí también. Créame usted, Ana María cree eso más que cualquiera otra persona. Su fe es más firme que nunca antes. Desde que lo conoció a usted, ella sigue dándole gracias a Dios por todo.”

Y con eso Nicolás estaba satisfecho, por tanto que Dios recibiera las gracias al fin. Como Nicolás le había enseñado a Demetrio muchos años antes, no hay nada que tenemos que no haya provenido de Dios primero.

Y cambiando el tema, Nicolás le preguntó, “¿Estás seguro que a ella no le va a importar que tú estés lejos por tres meses? Todavía podría encontrar a otra persona que me acompañe.”

“Ella está completa y totalmente contenta en que yo vaya con usted,” Demetrio le dijo. “Ella sabe lo importante que esto es para usted, y también sabe lo que significa para mí también. Yo no quiero perdérmelo.”

Ellos hablaban de las preparaciones para asistir al Concilio de Nicea ese verano. Nicolás había sido invitado por petición especial del emperador, y a cada obispo se le permitía traer un asistente personal. Tan pronto como Nicolás recibió la invitación, le pidió a Demetrio que fuera con él.

El concilio sería un evento magnífico. Al abrir la invitación para asistir, Nicolás no pudo creerlo. Tanto había cambiado en el mundo desde su encarcelamiento doce años antes.

Aún, ahí lo tenía, petición del emperador romano para presentarse delante de él al empezar la temporada de pascua. La única petición que un obispo habría recibido bajo Diocleciano habría sido la invitación a una ejecución pública—la propia. Pero bajo el gobierno de Constantino, la vida del cristiano había cambiado radicalmente.

Constantino no sólo había firmado el mandato que daba plena tolerancia a los cristianos, el cual resultó en liberar a todos ellos encarcelados, pero también había empezado a devolverles sus propiedades—propiedades que habían sido arrebatadas bajo el emperador anterior. Constantino también había empezado a financiar el arreglo de las parroquias que habían sido destruidas por Diocleciano. Era el principio de un nuevo aliento de gracia para los cristianos, después de la intensa persecución que habían sufrido.

Como otra señal del apoyo de Constantino a los cristianos, él había convocado una conferencia de los más influyentes obispos del imperio. Constantino quería llevar a cabo dos propósitos con la conferencia: unificar la iglesia dentro del imperio anteriormente dividido, y a la vez no perder la esperanza de unir a todo el país. Como el gobernante del pueblo, Constantino afirmaba su responsabilidad de ofrecerle bienestar espiritual a los ciudadanos. Y por eso, había jurado asistir, y él mismo presidir en este concilio histórico. Tomaría lugar en la ciudad de Nicea, comenzando en la primavera de ese año y continuando por varios meses hasta llegar el verano.

Cuando Nicolás recibió la invitación, enseguida le dio gracias a Dios por los cambios que ocurrían en su mundo. Mientras la Gran Persecución había fortalecido la fe de los que la habían sobrevivido, esa misma persecución había arruinado las destrezas de muchos más, limitando la habilidad de enseñar, predicar y evangelizar a otros cerca de ellos con el mensaje de Cristo que es capaz de cambiar las vidas.

Ahora esos obstáculos habían sido eliminados—con el apoyo y consentimiento del emperador mismo. El único obstáculo que existía estaba dentro de los corazones y mentes de aquellos que oirían las buenas nuevas, y que tendrían que decidir por sí mismos que hacer con el mensaje.

La influencia y respeto de Nicolás había aumentado en Mira y también por las regiones cercanas. Su gran riqueza hacía tiempo que se había agotado, ya que la había dado casi toda al ver venir la Gran Persecución, y lo que quedaba de ella había sido descubierta y saqueada mientras estaba encarcelado. Pero por todo lo material que había perdido, él lo había recibido de nuevo en influencia, pues su corazón y su vida aún estaban dirigidos hacia la caridad—sin importarle lo que tenía o no tenía. Después de gastarse dando tanto a la gente a su alrededor, él fue naturalmente uno de los escogidos para asistir al concilio anticipado. Llegaría a ser uno de los eventos más monumentales de la historia, y no hace falta decir uno de los eventos más monumentales de la propia vida de Nicolás—pero no necesariamente por razones que él quisiera recordar.

 

Capítulo 32 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Aunque los cristianos gozaban una nueva libertad bajo Constantino, el futuro del Cristianismo aún estaba en ciertos peligros. Las amenazas ya no venían por fuera de la iglesia, pero por dentro. Facciones habían empezado a sumergir dentro de la iglesia que crecía, con intensas discusiones sobre varios temas teológicos que tenían consecuencias muy prácticas.

Particularmente, un grupo pequeño pero muy elocuente, dirigido por Arrio, había empezado a llamar la atención de la gente preguntando si Jesús realmente era divino o no.

¿Fue Jesús solo un hombre? ¿O fue Él, verdaderamente, uno con Dios en su propia naturaleza? Para hombres como Nicolás y Demetrio, la pregunta era indiscutible, ya que ellos habían dedicado toda su vida siguiendo a Jesús como su Señor. Ellos lo habían dejado todo atrás para seguirlo a Él en palabra y en acciones. Él era su Señor, su Salvador, su Luz y su Esperanza. Como muchos que asistirían al concilio, no eran sus mantos ni sus vestuarios exteriores que eran testigos de su fe en Cristo, pero las cicatrices y heridas que llevaban en el cuerpo al sufrir por Él. Ellos habían arriesgado su vida bajo amenaza de muerte por adorar al divino Cristo y no al emperador Diocleciano. En su pensar no había pregunta alguna sobre este tema. Pero aún había otros que sentían que esta era una pregunta que se debía discutir.

En el entusiasmo de Arrio de ver a la gente adorar sólo a Dios, él no podía imaginar que un hombre, ni uno tan bueno como Jesús, pudiera declararse uno con Dios sin blasfemar el nombre del mismo Dios. En este sentido, Arrio no era diferente a aquellos que habían perseguido a Jesús cuando aún vivía. Hasta algunos que habían vivido entonces y habían sido testigos de sus milagros con sus propios ojos, y habían oído las palabras de Jesús con sus propios oídos, no podían entender que era posible que Jesús decía la verdad cuando dijo, “El Padre y yo somos uno.” Y por eso, llevaron a Jesús a Herodes, y después a Pilato, para crucificarlo.

De niño Nicolás también había pensado en esa afirmación de Jesús. Pero cuando Nicolás estuvo en Belén, por fin lo entendió todo perfectamente—que Dios mismos vino del cielo a la tierra como hombre humano para sufrir los pecados del mundo una vez por todas como Dios en cuerpo humano.

Arrio, sin embargo, era como el Apóstol Pablo rumbo a Damasco antes de conocer a Jesús. Antes de la experiencia que cambió su vida, el Apóstol Pablo quería proteger lo que él sentía que era la santidad de Dios persiguiendo a todos los que admitían adorar a Jesús como Dios. Porque, según Pablo pensaba antes, nadie podía considerarse uno con Dios.

Como Arrio, Pablo no podía creer la afirmación de Jesús y sus seguidores. Pero en ruta a Damasco, mientras en su entusiasmo él iba a buscar y matar a los cristianos, Pablo se encontró con Cristo, el Hijo del Dios viviente, en una visión que lo dejó ciego físicamente, pero que lo despertó espiritualmente a la Verdad. En los días siguientes, los ojos físicos de Pablo se curaron y él se arrepintió de sus vanos esfuerzos. Él fue bautizado en el nombre de Jesús y empezó a predicar de ese momento que Jesús no había sido solamente un hombre, pero que su afirmación de ser uno con el Padre era completamente cierta. Pablo dio su vida en adoración y servicio a Cristo, y tuvo que soportar, como Nicolás había soportado, prisión y toda amenaza de muerte por su fe.

Arrio, se parecía más a los gobernantes religiosos del tiempo de Jesús los cuales, en su entusiasmo por defender a Dios, actualmente crucificaron al Señor de toda creación. Arrio se sentía justificado en su esmero en conseguir el apoyo de los obispos a su punto de vista.

Ni Nicolás ni Demetrio pensaban que las ideas Arrio podrían obtener mucho apoyo. Pero pronto verían que el carácter carismático de Arrio y su elocuente modo de expresarse podían prevalecer sobre varios de los obispos que aún no habían pensado mucho en esa teología ni en las consecuencias.

Sin embargo, Nicolás y Demetrio, como el Apóstol Pablo, el Apóstol Juan y miles de otros desde la época cuando Jesús vivió y murió y resucitó de la muerte de nuevo, habían descubierto que Jesús era, agradecida y sobrenaturalmente, totalmente hombre y totalmente divino a la vez.

¿Pero cuál sería la conclusión de los otros obispos? Y ¿qué verdad teológica enseñarían a otros por todas las generaciones por venir? Esas llegarían a ser las preguntas fundamentales que se decidirían en esa conferencia en Nicea. Aunque Nicolás estaba interesado en esa discusión, no tenía idea alguna que él tendría un papel principal en el resultado.

 

Capítulo 33 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Después de una gran procesión de obispos y clérigos, un coro de monaguillos y unas palabras iniciales del Emperador Constantino, uno de los primeros temas de discusión fue el que propuso Arrio—si Cristo era o no era divino.

Arrio presentó sus argumentos iniciales con gran elocuencia y gran convicción delante de Constantino y el resto de la asamblea. Jesús era, él indicó, tal vez el principal de todos los seres creados. Pero ser igual a Dios, uno en sustancia y naturaleza con Él, era imposible—por lo menos según Arrio. “Nadie podía ser uno con Dios,” el dijo.

Nicolás escuchaba en silencio, junto con los otros obispos en el inmenso salón. El respeto para el orador, especialmente en la presencia del emperador, tenía prioridad sobre todo tipo de murmurar o distracción que a veces acompañaban conferencias de ese tipo, especialmente cuando era sobre un tema tan penetrante. Pero mientras más hablaba Arrio, más difícil le era a Nicolás quedarse sentado en silencio.

Después de todo, los padres de Nicolás habían dado su vida en honor de servir a Cristo, su Señor. Nicolás mismo había estado agobiado con la presencia de Dios en Belén, en el mismo lugar donde Dios apareció por primera vez como hombre en carne humana. Demetrio, Samuel y Rut habían sido semejantemente conmovidos con la visita a Belén. Habían subido la colina en Jerusalén donde el Rey de reyes había sido crucificado por los gobernantes religiosos—gobernantes que, como Arrio, dudaban la afirmación que de Jesús era uno con Dios.

Nicolás siempre había sabido que Jesús era diferente a otros hombres que vivieron. Y después de Jesús morir, él había resucitado de la muerte, se le había aparecido a los doce discípulos y entonces se les apareció a más de quinientos otros habitantes de Jerusalén en esos tiempos. ¿Qué clase de hombre era ese? ¿Fue cómo una alucinación de masas? ¿Fue solo un deseo de los admiradores religiosos? Pero estos hombres no eran solo admiradores, ellos eran seguidores de Él dispuestos a dar sus vidas, también, por su Señor y Salvador.

Nicolás no podía dejar de pensar en los argumentos. ¿No había anunciado ya el profeta Miqueas, cientos de años antes de nacer Jesús, que los orígenes del Mesías “se remontan hasta la antigüedad, hasta tiempos inmemoriales?” ¿No había dicho el apóstol Juan que Jesús “estaba con Dios en el principio,” añadiendo que Jesús “era Dios?”

Como otros habían tratado de sugerir, Arrio dijo que Jesús nunca había afirmado que él era Dios. Pero Nicolás conocía las Escrituras suficientemente bien y sabía que Jesús había dicho, “El Padre y yo somos uno. El que me ha visto a mí, ha visto al Padre. ¿Acaso no crees que yo estoy en el Padre y el Padre está en mí?”

Hasta los mismos enemigos de Jesús en los años que Él vivía dijeron que la razón que ellos querían apedrear a Jesús era porque Jesús afirmaba ser Dios. Las Escrituras decían que estos enemigos rodearon a Jesús un día y Él les dijo, “Yo les he mostrado muchas obras irreprochables que proceden del Padre. ¿Por cuál de ellas me quieren apedrear?”

Ellos respondieron, “No te apedreamos por ninguna de ellas sino por blasfemia: porque tú, siendo hombre, te haces pasar por Dios.”

Jesús ciertamente afirmaba que Él era Dios, una afirmación que lo había puesto en dificultades. Su afirmación mostraba que Él era un loco o un mentiroso—o que Él decía la verdad.

Nicolás tenía la mente llena de referencias de las Escrituras como estas, así como de memorias de los años que había pasado encarcelado—años que él nunca tendría de nuevo—todo por no estar dispuesto a adorar a Diocleciano como un dios, pero estaba preparado a adorar a Jesús como Dios. ¿Cómo podía quedar callado y dejar que Arrio siguiera hablando así? ¿Cómo es que los representantes en el salón podían quedarse en silencio? A Nicolás no le cabía en la mente.

“Él no tenía nada divino,” Arrio dijo con plena convicción. “Él fue solo un hombre como cada uno de nosotros.”

Sin aviso, y sin ningún otro momento para pensar en lo que iba a hacer, Nicolás se puso de pie. Y luego sus pies, como si tuvieran su propia disposición, se pusieron en camino preciso y fijo por el inmenso salón hacia Arrio. Arrio continuó hablando hasta que por fin Nicolás se detuvo delante de él.

Arrio dejó de hablar. Esta violación de formalidad no se había visto antes.

En el silencio siguiente, Nicolás le dio la espalda a Arrio y se quitó el manto que tenía en la espalda, enseñándoles a todos las horribles cicatrices de las heridas que sufrió en la prisión. Nicolás dijo, “No adquirí éstas por “solo un hombre.””

Dando una vuelta hacia Arrio y enfrentándose a él otra vez, Nicolás se fijo en la sonrisa condescendiente en la cara del Arrio. Arrio dijo, “Pues, parece que has hecho un error.” Entonces Arrio comenzó su discurso de nuevo como si nada hubiera pasado.

Entonces fue cuando Nicolás hizo lo inesperado. Sin otra idea que solamente detener que este hombre hablara mal de su Señor y Salvador, y en plena vista del emperador y de todos los delegados, Nicolás apretó el puño. Echo el brazo atrás y le dio a Arrio un puñetazo fuerte en la cara.

Arrio tropezó y cayó hacia atrás, tal como por la fuerza del golpetazo como el asombro de lo ocurrido. Nicolás también se quedó pasmado—así como todos los delegados en el salón. Con los mismos precisos y fijos pasos que lo habían llevado delante de la asamblea, Nicolás ahora caminó hacia su butaca y se sentó.

Todos en el salón se habían quedado boquiabiertos cuando Nicolás le pegó a Arrio, y a continuación surgió la explosión de un alboroto cuando Nicolás volvió a sentarse en su butaca. El alboroto amenazaba echar todo el proceso del concilio en desorden. La mayoría de los delegados en el salón estaban a punto de ponerse de pie para aplaudir el acto de Nicolás por su audacia—incluyendo, por su mirada, el mismo emperador. Pero para los otros, y Arrio siendo el principal de ellos, ni palabras ni muestra de emoción podían expresar la indignación. Todos sabían el delito horrible que Nicolás había cometido. En hecho, usar cualquier tipo de violencia delante del emperador se consideraba un acto ilegal. El castigo por el acto era inmediatamente cortarle la mano de la persona que había golpeado a la otra en la presencia del emperador.

Constantino sabía la ley, claro, pero también conocía a Nicolás. Hasta una vez había tenido un sueño en el cual Nicolás lo advertía de conceder freno a cámara de muerte a tres hombres en la corte del emperador—advertencia que Constantino obedeció y realizó en la vida real. Cuando Constantino compartió el sueño con uno de sus generales, el general le contó al emperador lo que Nicolás había hecho por tres hombres inocentes en Mira, ya que el general era uno de los que había visto el valor de Nicolás en persona.

Aunque el acto de Nicolás contra Arrio parecía ser impulsivo, Constantino admiraba el valor de Nicolás. Conocido por su rapidez de pensar y de actuar, Constantino levantó la mano y al momento todos en el salón se quedaron en silencio al ver al emperador. “Es cierto que esto nos sorprende a todos,” dijo. “Y mientras el castigo de tal acto en mi presencia está en lo claro, yo prefiero, en vez, diferir este caso a los líderes del concilio. Este congreso es de ustedes y yo difiero a su sabiduría en conducirlo como a ustedes les parezca.”

Constantino había puesto tiempo y a la vez buena voluntad entre los diferentes bandos. Casi todo el concilio estaba a favor de Nicolás, por lo menos en sentimiento, aunque no podían apoyarlo en la acción. Algún castigo era debido, ya que no dárselo dejaría de honrar la letra de la ley. Pero al tener el permiso del mismo emperador para actuar de modo apropiado, en vez de dar el castigo corriente, ellos sintieron la libertad de tomar otra forma de acción.

Después de discutir el asunto por un tiempo, los líderes del concilio llegaron a un acuerdo y decidieron apartar del sacerdocio a Nicolás inmediatamente quitándole su puesto de obispo, prohibiéndole la participación durante el resto del concilio en Nicea y conteniéndolo bajo arresto domiciliario en el complejo del palacio. Allí él esperaría cualquiera otra decisión que el concilio tuviera al concluir la asamblea en el verano. Era una sentencia benévola, tomando en cuenta la infracción.

Pero para Nicolás, hasta antes de oír cual iba a ser su castigo, él ya estaba castigándose más de lo que otra persona lo podía castigar por lo que acababa de hacer. Dentro de un minuto, él había experimentado emociones de euforia como en la cumbre de una montaña a trastorno como en lo más bajo de un valle.

En Nicea él era delegado a una de las más importantes asambleas en la historia del mundo, y él acababa de hacer algo que sabía que no podía deshacer. La ramificación del acto lo afectaría por el resto de la vida, estaba seguro, por lo menos por el resto que le quedaba de vivir. La emoción que sentía solo la podía entender, tal vez, aquellos que la habían sentido antes—el peso, la pena y la agonía de un momento pecaminoso que lo podría haber desbaratado, si no fuera por conocer el perdón de Cristo.

Cuando apartaron a Nicolás de su puesto de obispo, fue delante de toda la asamblea. Fue despojado del manto de obispo, y entonces fue llevado fuera del salón en cadenas. Pero esa vergüenza no era nada comparada con la humillación que él sentía por dentro. Estaba hasta demasiado entumecido para llorar.

 

Capítulo 34 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

“¿Qué es lo que he hecho? Nicolás le preguntó a Demetrio mientras los dos estaban sentados cerca de la esquina más lejana del palacio. Esta habitación se había convertido en la improvisa celda de Nicolás, mientras lo mantenían en arresto domiciliario por el resto de la conferencia. Demetrio, usando su presente y extensa habilidad de obtener acceso a partes privadas del palacio, de nuevo había conseguido el modo de visitar a su amigo encarcelado.

“¿Qué ha hecho? ¿Qué podía haber hecho?” respondió Demetrio. “Si usted no lo hubiera hecho, seguro que otra persona lo hubiera hecho, o por lo menos debería haberlo hecho. Usted le hizo a Arrio, y a todos nosotros también, un favor con ese puñetazo. Si él hubiera continuado con esa ofensa, ¡quién sabe el castigo que el Señor habría pronunciado sobre toda la asamblea!” Claro que Demetrio sabía que Dios podía aguantar la descarga de Arrio, y mucho más, siempre lo hacía cuando la gente le forma escándalos a Él y sus propósitos. Él sufre a largo plazo mucho más que cualquiera de nosotros pudiéramos sufrir. Pero aún, Demetrio sentía que el evento de Nicolás era razonable.

Nicolás, sin embargo, apenas podía comprenderlo de ese modo ahora. Le parecía que tal vez había provocado el éxito de la causa de Arrio dejando que los delegados sintieran piedad por él. Nicolás sabía que cuando alguien está a punto de perder un debate basado en razón, muchas veces va derecho a la emoción y a los corazones del público, sea razonable o no. Y por tanto que Arrio estuviera cansando a los delegados con su la falta de lógica, Nicolás pensaba que ahora lo que él había hecho excedía las escalas de emoción a favor de Arrio.

La corriente de sus pensamientos golpeaba la mente de Nicolás. Aquí estaban, solo en los primeros días del concilio, y él tendría que estar bajo arresto domiciliario los próximos dos meses. ¿Cómo podría sobrevivir los dolores emocionales cada día todo ese tiempo?

Nicolás ya sabía que su celda en el palacio sería totalmente diferente a la que tenía cuando Diocleciano lo encarceló por más de diez años. Esta vez, sentía que había sido él mismo que lo había encarcelado. Y aunque esta prisión era una bella habitación en el palacio, los pensamientos de Nicolás, eran peores que la asquerosa celda donde él casi había muerto.

En la otra celda, él sabía que estaba allí por causa de las malas intenciones de otros. Eso le hacía sentir que lo que tenía que sufrir allí era parte del sufrimiento común que Jesús dijo que todos Sus seguidores tendrían. Pero en esta celda, sabía que él estaba allí por causa de su propia absurda acción, acción que el juzgaba imperdonable, un pensamiento que seguramente todos en la asamblea compartían.

Por los años la gente conocía a Nicolás como un hombre tranquilo, con fuerza interna y dignidad controlada. Entonces, en solo un día, había perdido esa reputación—y, mucho más, delante del emperador. ¿Cómo podía perdonarse? “¿Cómo?” le preguntó a Demetrio. “¿No soy capaz de echar atrás lo que le he hecho al nombre del Señor?”

Demetrio contestó, “Tal vez Él no quiere que usted lo eche atrás. Tal vez lo que le interesa a Él no es lo que usted piensa que le hizo a su nombre, pero lo que usted hizo en su nombre. Ciertamente usted hizo lo que yo, y la mayoría de los delegados en el salón hubieran querido hacer, si hubieran tenido el valor de hacerlo.”

Las palabras de Demetrio se sostenían en el aire. Mientras Nicolás pensaba en ellas, una afable sonrisa se formó en su boca. A lo mejor había por fin alguna lógica en la intención de su corazón al portarse como lo hizo. Él sinceramente quería honrar y defender a su Señor, no quería de ningún modo quitarle la atención que Él solo se merecía. “Pedro,” él recordó, “tenía pasión similar en defender a su Señor.” Y Nicolás ahora se daba cuenta de lo que Pedro podía haber sentido cuando le cortó la oreja a uno de los hombres que había venido a detener a Jesús. Jesús le dijo a Pedro que guardara su espada y entonces Jesús le sanó la oreja al hombre. Jesús, indudablemente, podía defenderse perfectamente bien Él solo, pero Nicolás aún aprobaba la pasión que Pedro tenía al defender al Maestro.

Todavía Nicolás no estaba convencido que había hecho lo correcto, pero se sentía compañero de otros que habían actuado apasionadamente. Y las palabras de Demetrio lo ayudaron a realizar que él no estaba solo en su pensar, y se conformó un poco en el hecho que Demetrio no lo había abandonado por cause del incidente. El apoyo de Demetrio era como una pomada calmante al corazón de Nicolás, y lo ayudó a seguir adelante en la vida, aún en otro momento difícil.

Aunque Nicolás estaba convencido que el daño que había hecho era irrevocable en términos humanos—y que Dios tendría que obrar doble para traer algo bueno del incidente—Nicolás sabía lo que él tenía que hacer. Hasta en este momento de profunda humillación, él sabía que lo mejor que podía hacer es lo que él siempre había hecho: poner completa fe y confianza en Dios. ¿Pero cómo? ¿Cómo podía confiar que Dios era capaz de usar este episodio para el bien?

Casi sabiendo lo que Nicolás pensaba, Demetrio sabía exactamente lo que su amigo necesitaba para poder confiar en Dios de nuevo. Demetrio hizo lo que Nicolás había hecho por él y Samuel y Rut ya hace muchos años. Demetrio le dijo un cuento.

 

Capítulo 35 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Demetrio comenzó preguntándole, “¿Qué tipo de cuento te gustaría escuchar hoy? ¿Uno misericordioso o uno maligno?” Así era como Nicolás había introducido cada uno de los cuentos bíblicos que les contaba a Demetrio, Samuel y Rut durante sus tantas aventuras en la Tierra Santa. Luego Nicolás deleitaba a los niños con un cuento de la Biblia sobre un personaje benévolo o uno malvado, o un cuento misericordioso o uno maligno, y a veces el cuento terminaba exactamente diferente a como había empezado.

Nicolás lo miró con interés.

“Eso no es importante,” continuó Demetrio, “porque el que tengo que contarle hoy pudiera ser misericordioso o maligno. No lo podrá saber hasta el fin. Pero he aprendido de un buen amigo,” dijo al guiñándole el ojo a Nicolás, “que la mejor manera de disfrutar un cuento es siempre confiando en el narrador del cuento.”

Nicolás les había dicho que él siempre se fijaba en la reacción de la gente de su pueblo que escuchaba el cuento.

“Cuando la gente confía en el narrador del cuento,” Nicolás les había dicho, “ellos pueden disfrutar el cuento sin importarles lo que sucede, porque ellos saben que el narrador sabe como el cuento va a terminar. Pero cuando la gente no confía en el narrador, sus emociones suben y bajan como un barco en una tormenta, dependiendo solo en lo que está pasando en el cuento en ese momento. La verdad es que solo el narrador sabe como el cuento va a terminar. Así que, mientras uno confía en el narrador del cuento, uno puede disfrutar el cuento desde el principio hasta el fin.”

Ahora era el turno de Demetrio de decirle un cuento a Nicolás. El cuento que escogió decirle era de otro hombre que también había sido encarcelado, un hombre llamado José. Demetrio le contó a Nicolás como la vida de José parecía subir y bajar.

Demetrio empezó a relatar el cuento. “El padre de José lo amaba y le regaló una bella túnica de todo color. Ahora pues, eso es bueno, ¿no?”

Nicolás asintió.

“Pero no, eso fue malo, ya que los hermanos de José vieron la túnica y se llenaron de celos y lo vendieron como esclavo. Ahora pues, eso es malo, ¿no?”

Nicolás asintió.

“No, eso fue bueno, porque a José lo pusieron a cargo de las propiedades de un hombre muy rico. Ahora pues, eso es bueno, ¿no?”

Nicolás asintió de nuevo.

“No, eso fue malo,” dijo Demetrio, “porque la esposa del hombre rico intentó seducirlo, y cuando José la resistió, ella lo mandó a la cárcel. Ahora pues, eso es malo, ¿no?”

Nicolás dejó de asentir si era bueno o malo porque ya tenía idea de la intención de su amigo.

“No, eso fue bueno,” dijo Demetrio, “porque a José lo pusieron a cargo de todos los otros prisioneros. Hasta los ayudaba a interpretar sus sueños. Ahora pues, eso es bueno, ¿no?”

Nicolás continuó escuchando seriamente.

“No, eso fue malo, porque después de interpretar sus sueños, José le pidió a uno de los hombres que lo ayudara a salir de la prisión cuando él saliera, pero el hombre olvidó a José y lo dejó allí. Ahora pues, eso es malo, ¿no?”

Nicolás se imaginaba ser el hombre olvidado en la prisión.

“¡No! ¡Fue bueno! Porque Dios había puesto a José en el lugar preciso en el tiempo preciso. Cuando el faraón de Egipto tuvo un sueño y necesitaba a alguien que so lo interpretara, el hombre que había sido encarcelado de repente recordó que José todavía estaba en la prisión y se lo dijo al faraón.

“El faraón mandó a llamar a José, le pidió una interpretación y José se la dio. El faraón estaba tan encantado con José que lo puso a cargo de todo su reino. Como resultado, José pudo usar su nuevo puesto para salvar a ciento miles de vidas incluyendo la de su propio padre y hasta las de sus hermanos—los mismos que lo habían vendido como esclavo al principio. ¡Y eso es muy bueno!

“Así que puede ver,” dijo Demetrio, “como siempre me ha dicho usted, nunca somos capaces de saber el final del cuento hasta que se termine. Dios sabía lo que estaba haciendo en cada etapa. Usted puede ver…

  • en el momento preciso, José nació y su padre lo amaba,

  • para que en el momento preciso sus hermanos lo maltrataran,

  • para que en el momento preciso lo comerciantes de esclavos vinieran y lo compraran,

  • para que en el momento preciso lo pusieran a cargo de las propiedades de un hombre rico,

  • para que en el momento preciso lo encarcelaran,

  • para que en el momento preciso lo pusieran a cargo de los prisioneros,

  • para que en el momento preciso él interpretara los sueños,

  • para que en el momento preciso él interpretara el sueño del faraón,

  • para que en el momento preciso José estuviera en el único lugar del mundo que Dios quería que él estuviera para salvar las vidas de su padre, sus hermanos y muchos, muchos más.

“Por todas las etapas de la vida, José nunca dejó de confiar en Dios. Él sabía el secreto de cómo disfrutar el cuento mientras lo vivía: él siempre confiaba en el Narrador, Él que estaba escribiendo el cuento de su vida.”

Todo el miedo y dudas de Nicolás desaparecieron en esos momentos y él sabía que también era capaz de confiar en el Narrador, Él que estaba escribiendo el cuento de su vida. El cuento de Nicolás no había terminado todavía, y él tenía que confiar que el mismo Dios que lo había traído hasta este episodio de su vida era capaz de llevarlo hasta el fin.

Nicolás miró a Demetrio con una sonrisa de agradecimiento, entonces cerró los ojos. Serían un par de largos mese mientras esperaba la decisión del concilio. Pero él sabía, si era capaz de confiar en Dios en ese momento y después en el próximo, que cada uno de esos momentos llegarían a ser minutos, y los minutos llegarían a ser horas. Las horas se convertirían en semanas y después en meses y después en años. Sabía que todo empezaba confiando en Dios en un momento.

Con los ojos todavía cerrados, Nicolás puso toda su fe y confianza en Dios otra vez. La paz de Dios le llenó el corazón.

Pronto, dos meses habían pasado. El concilio estaba listo para ofrecer la decisión final sobre muchos asuntos, incluyendo la decisión que había terminado en poner a Nicolás en arresto domiciliario al principio—y Nicolás estaba a punto de saber la decisión.

 

Capítulo 36 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

“¡Lo han hecho!” Fue Demetrio el que explotó por la puerta de la habitación de Nicolás tan pronto como el guardia del palacio la había abierto.

“¡Lo han hecho!” repitió. “¡Han terminado! ¡El concilio ha elegido y están de acuerdo con usted! ¡Todos menos dos de los trescientos diez y ocho obispos se han puesto de parte de usted en vez de Arrio!

Un sentido de alivio llenó todo el cuerpo de Nicolás. Demetrio, también, lo podía sentir en su propio cuerpo al ver que la noticia confortaba a Nicolás.

“Y además,” dijo Demetrio, “¡el concilio ha decidido no realizar ninguna otra acción contra usted!”

Ambas noticias eran el mejor resultado que Nicolás se podía haber imaginado. Aunque su acción le había costado el puesto de obispo, no había puesto en peligro el resultado del procedimiento. Hasta era posible—aunque nunca llegó a saberlo ciertamente—que su acción contra Arrio tal vez había dado forma a lo ocurrido durante esos meses de verano en el histórico concilio.

Minutos después de la llegada de Demetrio, otra visita llegó a la puerta de Nicolás. Era Constantino.

La decisión del concilio sobre qué hacer con Nicolás era una cosa, pero la decisión de Constantino era otra. Un nuevo temor llenó a Nicolás al pensar en lo que le podría ocurrir.

“Nicolás,” dijo el emperador, “Deseaba personalmente darle las gracias por venir a ser mi huésped in Nicea. Quiero pedirle perdón por lo que ha tenido que soportar estos últimos meses. Eso no es lo que esperaba yo y estoy seguro que no es lo que usted esperaba tampoco. Pero, aunque usted no pudo asistir al resto del procedimiento, le aseguro que su presencia fue considerada en cada reunión. Lo que usted hizo ese día fue testigo para mí de lo que significa seguir a Cristo más que cualquiera otra cosa que escuché en los siguientes días. Quiero saber más de usted en el futuro, si usted está dispuesto a ser mi huésped de nuevo. Pero la próxima vez no será en la esquina más lejana del palacio. Además, he pedido y he recibido el permiso del concilio para restaurarlo a su puesto de Obispo de Mira. Es mi opinión que Aquel que lo llamó a usted a servirlo a Él desea que usted continúe haciendo todo lo que ha hecho hasta ahora. De mi parte, quiero que usted sepa que yo aprecio lo que usted hizo aquí más de lo que pueda imaginarse. Gracias por venir, y cuando esté listo, usted está en plena libertad para regresar a su hogar.”

Nicolás escuchaba las palabras de Constantino como si estuviera en un sueño. Apenas podía creer lo que escuchaba con sus propios oídos. Pero cuando el emperador dijo la palabra “hogar,” Nicolás se dio cuenta que no era un sueño, y la palabra cayó en sus oídos como la campanada más dulce. De todas las palabras dichas por el emperador, ninguna le parecía mejor que la última: hogar. Lo único que quería era regresar a servir a su congregación. Fue por ellos que él vino a este importante concilio en primer lugar, para asegurar que las verdaderas palabras que él les había enseñado se continuaran enseñando por toda la tierra.

Después de más de dos meses de estar separado de ellos, y la continua pregunta de qué les pasaría a ellos y a los otros cientos de miles como ellos en el futuro que serían afectados por la decisión hecha in Nicea, Nicolás por fin podía regresar a su hogar. Estaba en libertad de nuevo, pero en más de una forma.

 

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PARTE 7

 

Capítulo 37 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Por última vez Nicolás estaba en el lugar más preferido de todos: a la orilla del mar. Habían pasado diez y ocho años desde regresar a Mira del concilio en Nicea. En los días después de haber regresado, él continuaba sirviendo al Señor como siempre lo había hecho: con todo su corazón, toda su alma, con toda su mente, y con todas sus fuerzas.

Nicolás había venido a la orilla del mar con Demetrio y Ana María, los cuales habían traído con ellos a uno de sus nietos, una niña de siete años llamada Rut.

Rut estaba corriendo de arriba a abajo por la playa saltando las olas, mientras Demetrio y Ana María trataban de seguirla. Nicolás tenía tiempo para mirar hacia el mar, y como a veces lo hacía, miraba hacia la eternidad también.

Pensando en su vida, Nicolás no sabía si había cumplido en la vida la misión que quería cumplir: tomar la oportunidad para cambiar el mundo. A veces tenía un vistazo de cambios, claro, en las vidas de gente como Demetrio, Samuel, Rut, Sofía, Cecilia y Ana María.

También había aprendido de gente como el capitán del barco que cuando el capitán llegó a Roma, el barco milagrosamente pesaba exactamente lo mismo que antes de salir del Alejandría—aunque le había dado de la mercancía del barco a la gente de Mira la cantidad de grano necesaria para durarle varios años. Recuerdos como esos animaban a Nicolás que Dios realmente lo estaba guiando en las decisiones que hacía.

Pero aún tenía preguntas. Nunca llegó a saber si lo que había hecho en el Concilio de Nicea era lo debido. Tampoco llegó a saber si la conversación privada que tuvo con Constantino pudo haber afectado la fe en Cristo del emperador.

Le dio aliento saber, sin embargo, que la madre de Constantino también había peregrinado a la Tierra Santa como Nicolás lo había hecho. Y después de la jornada, ella convenció a Constantino a edificar parroquias sobre los sitios santos que ella había visitado. Recientemente ella había terminado de edificar una parroquia en Belén sobre el lugar donde Jesús había nacido, así como unas parroquias en Jerusalén sobre el sitio donde Jesús había muerto y resucitado.

Nicolás sabía que había tenido ambos éxitos y fracasos en la vida. Pero fijándose en el pasado, no era capaz de identificar cuáles etapas de su vida eran un éxito y cuáles eran un fracaso. Los tiempos que pensaba que eran valles oscuros se habían vuelto en experiencias de alta montaña, y los de cima se habían convertido en valles profundos. Pero lo más importante era, se forzaba en recordar, que él confiaba en Dios en todas las etapas de la vida, sabiendo que Dios disponía de todas las cosa para el bien de quienes Lo aman, que habían sido llamados de acuerdo con Su propósito.

Lo que el futuro tenía disponible para el mundo, Nicolás no lo sabía. Pero lo que sí sabía era que él había aprovechado los días que Dios le había dado. Fue su intención amar a Dios y amar al prójimo como Jesús le había dicho. Y cuando a veces fracasó, él confiaba que Jesús podía cubrir esos fracasos, también, del mismo modo que Él había cubierto sus pecados al morir en la cruz.

Como el padre de Nicolás había hecho antes de él, Nicolás, también, miró hacia el mar otra vez. Entonces, cerrando los ojos, le pidió a Dios fuerza para la próxima jornada que tomaría.

Dejó que el sol le calentara la cara, entonces él abrió sus manos y dejó que las brisas del mar las levantaran hacia lo alto. Alabó a Dios mientras las brisas cálidas flotaban delicadamente por las llamas de sus dedos.

La pequeña Rut regresó salpicando en el agua, seguida por Demetrio y Ana María. Rut miró hacia Nicolás, con los ojos cerrados y las manos hacia el cielo. Sujetándolo, lo haló del manto y le preguntó, “¿Nicolás, alguna vez ha visto usted a Dios?”

Nicolás abrió los ojos y vio a Rut, entonces les echó una sonrisa a Demetrio y Ana María. Volvió los ojos al sol y las olas y las miles y miles de orillas que se extendían en ambas direcciones delante de él. Volviendo los ojos de nuevo a Rut, Nicolás le dijo, “Sí, Rut, he visto a Dios. Y mientras más viejo soy, más Lo veo dondequiera que miro.”

Rut sonrió, y Nicolás le dio un abrazo fuerte. Y entonces, tan pronto como había venido hacia él, se fue de nuevo a jugar en el agua.

Nicolás miró a Demetrio y Ana María y sonrió, entonces la pareja también, siguió persiguiendo a Rut por la orilla de la playa.

Por última vez, Nicolás miró hacia el bello mar, entonces dio una vuelta y empezó a caminar hacia su hogar.

 

Epílogo (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Así que ahora ya saben ustedes un poco acerca de mí—Demetrio Alejandro—y mi buen amigo, Nicolás. Esa fue la última vez que lo vi, hasta esta mañana. Pidió que le dejáramos pasar unos días sólo, sólo él con el Señor que amaba. Dijo que tenía que prepararse para una jornada más. Ana María y yo entendimos exactamente lo que nos quería decir.

Sabíamos que estaba preparándose para regresar a su hogr, a su verdadero hogar, el que Jesús dijo que iba a preparar para cada uno de nosotros que creíamos en Él.

Nicolás ya había estado anticipando el viaje toda la vida. No era que él quería dar menos de lo debido ni a un momento de la vida que Dios le había dado aquí en la tierra, ya que él sabía que su vida tenía un propósito también, o Dios no la hubiera creado nunca con tanta belleza y precisión y maravillosos misterios.

Pero mientras la vida de Nicolás aquí en la tierra llegaba a su fin, él dijo que estaba listo. Estaba listo a retirarse, y anhelaba todo lo que Dios le había prometido a continuación.

Así que cuando esta mañana Nicolás nos mandó un recado a Ana María y a mí y a unos cuantos otros amigos que viniéramos a verlo, sabíamos que la hora había llegado.

Entrando en la habitación, lo encontramos acostado en la cama, tal como está ahora mismo. Respirando silenciosamente indicó que nos acercáramos. No nos fue posible reprimir las lágrimas y él no intentó detener nuestra emoción. Él sabía lo difícil que era despedirse de seres queridos. Pero, él también logró que la despedida fuera menos difícil para todos nosotros. Sonrió una vez más y nos habló calladamente, diciendo las mismas palabras que había pronunciado cuando Rut murió muchos años antes: “Con cualquier fin somos vencedores,” nos dijo. “No importa el fin, ya somos vencedores.”

“Sí, Nicolás,” le dije, “No importa el fin. Ya somos vencedores.” Entonces el silencio llenó la habitación. Nicolás cerró los ojos y se quedó dormido por última vez. Nadie pudo moverse. Nadie dijo ni una palabra más.

El hombre que estaba delante de nosotros dormía como si fuera cualquiera otra noche de su vida. Pero nosotros sabíamos que este era un momento divino. Nicolás acababa de entrar en la presencia del Señor. Como Nicolás lo había hecho toda su vida, nosotros estábamos seguros de lo que estaba haciendo ahora: caminando y hablando y riéndose con Jesús, pero ahora estaban cara a cara.

Sólo podíamos imaginarnos lo que Nicolás le estaba diciendo a Jesús. Pero estábamos seguros de lo que Jesús le estaba diciendo a él: “Hiciste bien, siervo bueno y fiel! ¡Ven a compartir la felicidad de tu Señor!”

No tengo ni idea de cómo la historia va a recordar a Nicolás, si de veras se acordará de él. Él no fue un emperador como Constantino. No fue un tirano como Diocleciano. No fue un orador como Arrio. Fue simplemente un cristiano que vivió su fe, afectando una vida a la vez de la mejor forma que podía.

Nicolás tal vez pensaba si su vida había cambiado el mundo de alguna manera. Yo sé la respuesta, y ahora que ustedes saben su historia, dejo que ustedes decidan por sí mismos. Al fin de todo, sólo Dios sabe verdaderamente cuántas vidas fueron afectadas por este hombre extraordinario.

Pero lo que yo sé es esto: cada uno de nosotros sólo tenemos una vida para vivir. Pero si la vivimos bien, como Nicolás lo hizo, una vida es todo lo que necesitamos.

 

Conclusión (Volver al índice de contenidos)
Por Eric Elder

Lo que Nicolás no supo, y lo que nadie que lo conoció pudo imaginarse, fue lo mucho que su vida afectaría a la gente—no sólo por todo el mucho, pero por todas las generaciones.

Para sus padres, él fue un hijo querido, y para aquellos en la ciudad él fue su obispo querido. Para nosotros, él ha llegado a ser conocido por otro nombre: Santa Claus.

La palabra bíblica de “santo” literalmente es “creyente”. La Biblia nos habla de los santos en Éfeso, los santos en Roma, los santos en Filipos y los santos en Jerusalén. Cada vez la palabra se refiere a los creyentes que vivían en esas ciudades. Así que Nicolás correctamente llegó a ser “San Nicolás”, o para decirlo de otro manera, “Nicolas, el creyente.” La tradición latina es “Santa Nicolás,” y en holandés “Sinterklass,” de donde viene el nombre “Santa Claus”.

Su buen nombre y sus hechos de caridad ha sido una inspiración para tantos que el día que él pasó de esta vida a la próxima, el 6 de diciembre de 343 A. D., aún se celebra por mucha gente alrededor del mundo.

Muchas leyendas se han contado de Nicolás por los años, algunas dándole características que son extraordinarias. Pero la razón que hay tantas leyendas, incluyendo esas que se cuentan de San Nicolás, es porque a veces los otros personajes en las leyendas tienen características extraordinarias. Eran personas tan bondadosas o tan respetadas que cada acto benévolo que se atribuía a ellos era como si ellos mismos lo hubieran hecho.

Aunque no todos los cuentos acerca de Nicolás se basan en los primeros datos de su vida, las historias escritas en los años que él vivió documentan muchos de los cuentos que se encuentran en este libro. Para ayudarlos a analizarlos mejor, aquí está lo que sabemos de su vida:

  • Nicolás nació entre los años 260 a 280 A.D. en la ciudad de Patara, una ciudad que aún se puede visitar hoy día en Turquía de hoy, en la costa norte del Mar Mediterráneo.

  • Los padres de Nicolás estaban dedicados al cristianismo y murieron en la plaga cuando Nicolás era solo un niño dejándolo con una gran herencia.

  • Nicolás hizo un peregrinaje a la Tierra Santa y vivió allí por varios años antes de regresar a su provincia natal de Licia.

  • Nicolás viajó por el Mar Mediterráneo en un barco en una tormenta. Después de orar, el barco llegó a su destino como si alguien estuviera a cargo del timón. El timón del barco también se llama barra del timón, y los marinos en el Mediterráneo de hoy aún se desean buena suerte con el dicho, “¡Qué Nicolás aguante tu barra del timón!”

  • Cuando Nicolás regresó de la Tierra Santa, el vino a vivir en Mira, como a treinta millas de su ciudad natal de Patara. Nicolás llegó a ser el obispo de Mira y vivió allí el resto de su vida.

  • En secreto Nicolás dio tres regalos de oro en tres ocasiones separadas a un hombre cuyas hijas serían vendidas como esclavas por no tener nada que ofrecerles como dote a sus pretendientes. La familia supo que Nicolás había sido el que había dado el dinero una de las veces, por eso sabemos esa historia hoy. En esta versión de la historia, hemos añadido, en cambio, el regalo de Nicolás de las primeras dos bolsas de monedas y Demetrio la tercera, para captar la idea que muchos regalos fueron dados en esos días, y aún se dan hoy, en el nombre de San Nicolás, que tenía la fama de dar regalos. El tema de redención también están tan asociado con esta historia de la vida de Nicolás, que si uno pasa por una casa de empeño hoy, muchas veces pueden ver tres globos dorados como insignia, representando las tres bolsas de oro que Nicolás ofreció para rescatar a las muchachas de su destino desafortunado.

  • Nicolás defendió la vida de tres hombres inocentes que injustamente habían sido condenados a muerte por un gobernador en Mira, arrebatando directamente la espada de la mano del verdugo.

  • “Nicolás, Obispo de Mira” está incluido en varios, pero no todos, los documentos históricos, que mencionan los delegados que asistieron al real Concilio de Nicea, el cual fue convocado por el Emperador Constantino en 325 A.D. Una de las decisiones principales del concilio fue sobre la divinidad de Cristo y resulto en la escritura del Credo de Nicea—un credo que aún se dice en muchas iglesias hoy. Varios históricos dicen que el nombre de Nicolás no aparece en todos los documentos del concilio porque lo hicieron desaparecer de la asamblea después de pegarle a Arrio por negar que Cristo era divino. Nicolás, sin embargo, es mencionado en por lo menos cinco de de los documentos antiguos, incluso el primer manuscrito en griego del evento.

  • El Credo de Nicea fue adoptado por el Concilio de Nicea y ha llegado a ser una de las más usadas y breves declaraciones de la fe cristiana. La versión original dice, en parte, de la traducción del griego: “Creemos en un solo Dios, El Padre Todopoderoso, Creador de todo lo visible y lo invisible. Y en un solo Señor Jesucristo, el Hijo de Dios, engendrado del Padre, el unigénito; es decir siendo de una sustancia con el Padre, Dios de Dios, Luz de Luz; Dios verdadero de Dios, engendrado, no creado, siendo de una sustancia con el Padre; por quien todo fue hecho bajo el cielo y en la tierra; quien por los hombres y nuestra salvación bajó del cielo y se encarnó y se hizo hombre; sufrió y el tercer día resucitó y ascendió a los cielos, y vendrá otra vez para juzgar a los vivos y a los muertos…” Otras versiones, comenzando tan pronto como en el 381 A.D. han cambiado y clarificado varias de las expresiones originales, resultando en varias similares, pero no exactas frases que se usan hoy.

  • Existen documentos en los cuales hablan de las cosas que Nicolás había hecho por la gente de Mira que incluyen datos asegurándole grano de un barco que viajaba de Alejandría a Roma, el cual rescató a la gente de la región del hambre.

  • Elena, la madre de Constantino, visitó la Tierra Santa y estimuló que Constantino construyera iglesias sobre, en su opinión, los sitios más importantes de la fe cristiana. Las iglesias fueron construidas en los sitios que los creyentes locales le habían mostrado donde Jesús había nacido y donde Él había muerto y resucitado. La Basílica de la Natividad en Belén y La Iglesia del Santo Sepulcro en Jerusalén han sido destruida y reconstruidas muchas veces, pero aún en el mismo lugar donde la madre de Constantino, y probablemente Nicolás mismo, las había visto.

  • La muerte de Nicolás se ha establecido el 6 de diciembre del 343 A.D., y uno aún puede visitar su tumba en la ciudad de Demre, Turquía, antes llamada Myra, en la provincia de Licia. Loa restos de Nicolás fueron desenterrados de la tumba en el 1,087 A.D. por italianos que temían que fueran destruidos o robados, ya que el país fue atacado por extranjeros. Los restos de Nicolás fueron llevados a la ciudad de Bari, Italia donde aún están enterrados hoy.

De las tantas otras historias que se cuentan o se atribuyen a Nicolás, es difícil decir con certeza cuales verdaderamente ocurrieron y cuales sólo se atribuyen a él por su buena reputación y su excelente nombre. Por ejemplo, en el siglo doce, historias se contaban de cómo Nicolás había resucitado a tres niños que habían sido brutalmente asesinados. Aunque el primer documento de esta historia no se conoció hasta ochocientos años después de la muerte de Nicolás, esta historia es una de la más frecuentemente asociada con San Nicolás en las obras de arte religioso, mostrando a tres niños resucitados delante de Nicolás. Hemos incluido sustancia de esa historia en esta novela en la forma de tres huérfanos que Nicolás conoció en la Tierra Santa y que él resucitó—por lo menos en forma espiritual.

Aunque todas las historias adicionales no se pueden asignar a Nicolás totalmente, podemos decir que su vida y su memoria han tenido un efecto tan profundo en la historia que más iglesias por todo el mundo hoy día llevan el nombre de “San Nicolás” que cualquier otro personaje, además de los originales discípulos.

Algunos se preguntan si es correcto o no creer en San Nicolás. Estamos seguros que a Nicolás no le importaría tanto si uno cree en él o no, pero le importaría más que uno crea en Él que él creyó, Jesucristo.

Una imagen popular hoy día muestra a San Nicolás de rodilla, su sombrero a su lado, delante del niño Jesús en el pesebre. Aunque esa imagen nunca había podido ocurrir en la vida real, ya que San Nicolás nació casi trescientos años después del nacimiento de Cristo, la intención del artista no puede ser más precisa. Nicolás fue un verdadero creyente en Jesús y el alababa, adoraba, y vivió su vida sirviendo a Cristo.

San Nicolás nunca hubiera querido que su historia sustituyera la historia de Jesús en el pesebre, pero él hubiera querido que su historia señalara a Jesús en el pesebre. Y esa fue la razón que se escribió este libro.

Mientras las historias contadas en este libro fueron seleccionadas de las muchas que se han contado de San Nicolás por medio de los años, estas fueron contadas para que usted creyera—no sólo en Nicolás, pero en Jesucristo, su Salvador. Estas historias fueron escritas por la misma razón que el Apóstol Juan escribió la historia que contó de Jesús en la Biblia, Juan dijo que él escribió su evangelio:

“…para que ustedes crean que Jesús es el Cristo, el Hijo de Dios, y para que al creer en su nombre tengan vida” (Juan 20:31).

Nicolás desearía lo mismo de ustedes. Él quisiera que ustedes se convirtieran en lo que él era: un creyente.

Si ustedes no lo han hecho, pongan su fe en Jesucristo hoy, pidiéndole que los perdone de sus pecados y les dé la garantía de vivirán con Él para siempre.

Si ya han puesto su fe en Cristo, dejen que esta historia les confirme lo realmente hermosa que es su fe. Renuevan hoy su compromiso de servir a Cristo como Nicolás lo sirvió: con todo tu corazón, con toda tu alma, con toda tu mente y con todas tus fuerzas. Dios realmente dispondrá todas las cosas para el bien de quienes lo aman. La Biblia dice:

Ahora bien, sabemos que Dios dispone todas las cosas para el bien de quienes lo aman, los que han sido llamados de acuerdo con su propósito” (Romanos 8:28).

Gracias por leer este libro especial sobre este hombre especial, y es mi petición que su Navidad verdaderamente sea feliz y llena de luz. Como Clement Moore escribió en su famoso poema, Una visita de San Nicolás:

¡Navidad a todos, y a todos muy buenas noches?”

Eric Elder

 

Reconocimiento (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Gracias a Joe Wheeler y Jim Rosenthal cuyo libro, San Nicolás: Una Vista Más Fija Sobre la Navidad, proveyó mucho del material exterior para esta novela. Su investigación y documentación de la vida de San Nicolás, y el contexto histórico en cual él vivió, fue el más informativo, autoritario y inspirador que encontramos sobre el tema. Gracias, Joe y Jim por ayudarnos a mantener vivo el espíritu de San Nicolás.

 

Sobre el Traductor (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Víctor Palomino nació en la Habana, Cuba en un hogar cristiano. Año y medio antes de la revolución castrista, su familia vino a vivir a Chicago para estar con su abuela maternal la cual los médicos le habían dado poco tiempo para vivir. Isabel Mercedes, su abuela, llegó a vivir ocho años más influyendo la fe de sus hijos y nietos hasta su muerte.

Víctor estudió en la Universidad del Estado de Illinois donde se especializó en pedagogía. Por más de treinta años él enseño español, inglés y oratoria en Illinois a estudiantes de los grados primarios hasta los universitarios. Por más de diez años, él trabajó en la administración de las escuelas públicas del estado. Víctor también ha sido estudiante del español en sus viajes a Méjico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Perú, Cuba, Puerto Rico y España.

 

Sobre los Autores (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Eric y Lana Elder han escrito varios cuentos de navidad que han cautivado e inspirado a miles como parte de una producción anual navideña conocida como Jornada a Belén.

San Nicolás: el Creyente es el estreno de su primer cuento complete de navidad. Eric y Lana también han colaborado en varios libros de inspiración incluyendo:

  • Dos semanas con Dios
  • Lo que Dios Dice Sobre el Sexo
  • Éxodo: Lecciones Sobre Libertad
  • Jesús: Lecciones Sobre el amor
  • Hechos: Lecciones Sobre la Fe
  • Nehemías: Lecciones Sobre la Reconstrucción
  • Efesios: Lecciones Sobre la Gracia
  • Israel: Lecciones de la Tierra Santa
  • Israel Para Niños: Lecciones de la Tierra Santa
  • Los mejores 20 Pasajes de la Biblia
  • Romanos: Lecciones Sobre la Renovación Mental
  • y Triunfando Sobre la Oscuridad

Para comprar material o recibir información, favor de visitar:
www.InspiringBooks.com (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Gracias por leer SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Making The Most Of The Darkness

12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss
by Eric Elder

Read it online below!

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

You’re reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

INTRODUCTION (Back to Table of Contents)

Let me start off by saying, “I’m sorry.” If you’re about to read this book, chances are good that you’ve probably lost someone or some thing that was very precious to you. And for that, perhaps the best thing I can say to you right now is simply, “I’m sorry.”

I wish there were something more I could do for you, or say to you, that would help to take away your pain or to ease your burden, even just a little. Although it may not seem like much, perhaps saying, “I’m sorry,” is just enough for right now.

Sometimes it’s just enough to know that there are other people who care, that there are other people who are aware of your pain and that there are other people who have walked through the darkness as well. I wish I could say I know what you’re going through, but I don’t. And even though no two losses are the same, sometimes it’s nice just to know that other people have walked through the darkness and found something special along the way, something they may have never noticed when they were walking in the light. Stars, for instance, shine brighter when there are no other lights around.

I’m not saying it’s easy, or altogether wonderful to walk in the darkness. It’s not. But if you read through the words on the following pages, you’ll find that there are beautiful lights along the way, glimpses of heaven and riches that glisten that you may never have noticed had you not walked this way. Samuel Rutherford, a Scottish pastor in the 1600s, said:

“Jesus came into my prison cell last night, and every stone flashed like a ruby.”

On the pages that follow, I’d like to share with you some of the rubies I saw as I walked through my own period of darkness—my first year of grief after losing my precious wife, Lana. I wrote these 12 messages while I was walking through the darkness, not after the fear and danger were gone, which always seems to make things look brighter and more obvious than before. I wrote them in the midst of the pain and heartache that I was experiencing, both as a way to help me stay focused on the One who was walking through it with me, and as a way to give hope to others who were walking through their own times of darkness.

At the beginning of my journey, I read a book called Getting to the Other Side of Grief. As I was just getting started, I honestly didn’t know that there was another side of grief and, if there was, if I’d ever get there myself. The pain was just too intense. But the authors of the book had both lost their spouses, they made a compelling case for the fact that there is another side of grief, and if I was willing to work through it—and in my case, to walk through it with God—I could get there, too.

I took their words to heart and I began to walk with intentionality, trusting that their words were true. More than that, I had the promise of God’s Word in the Bible that says that He will work all things together for our good:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

I knew this to be true from the previous 26 years of following Him. But I had never had to put it to the test more than in this first year after losing my sweet wife. She was, after Christ Himself, the greatest gift God had ever given me. And losing her was like losing part of myself, too.

On the pages that follow, you’ll get to know a little bit more about me and her and my family and our faith in God. Even though we may not have gone through what you’re going through right now, I hope that something of what we’ve gone through will be of help to you. There’s something about walking with others through their pain that helps to ease our own pain, even if just a little bit.

On the other hand, you may be hesitant to walk with me through these 12 messages for fear that they might open up some of your own wounds in a deeper way. If that’s the case, let me encourage you to keep reading on two fronts:

1) When I decided to put these 12 messages into this book, I was even fearful myself to reread them at first. Having just walked through an entire year of grief, I didn’t really want to relive it. Yet as I reread each of the messages, I was surprised at how hopeful I felt after reading each one, and to see that God was indeed walking with me every step of the way—even when I sometimes couldn’t see it for myself.

2) There’s something cathartic about walking through someone else’s pain that brings healing in our own. That’s one of the reasons people love watching good movies so much, even sad ones, because people are able to release some of their own emotions as they watch others go through similar struggles, even if they’re not exactly the same.

I remember one night some friends invited me to watch a movie with them when I was stopped for the night at their house on a long trip with the kids. This was before Lana had died, but after I had discovered that she may not live much longer. My friends said the movie was about some guys who bought a zoo and that the kids and I might like it.

I had no idea that the movie was about a husband who lost his wife to a serious illness and dealt with the aftermath of that tragic event. As I realized what the movie was about, I started to boil inside, thinking that I would have never watched it if I had known what it was about, and I wouldn’t have had my kids watch it either. I didn’t want to think about Lana dying, let alone what life might be like once she was gone.

But somehow I stayed in my seat, for as the movie unfolded, I was drawn into the story, drawn into the way the main characters walked through this loss in their life. Although it wasn’t all peaches and roses, it wasn’t without hope, either. Many of the thoughts and emotions they expressed were the same thoughts and emotions that had flitted through my own mind but never wanted to entertain. Watching now, however, in the context of someone else’s pain, somehow seemed to ease my own.

As the movie came to a close, I was so thankful I had watched. It didn’t end all neat and tidy, but it did end with hope. And while the movie itself wasn’t about God, it gave me hope that with God somehow He would be able to work it all out in the end. So perhaps reading our story will give you that hope, too.

I also want to let you know you can read these messages at your own pace. I wrote these over the course of a year, so I was at a slightly different place in my grief with each message. One of the books I read on grief during this past year was one that was timed to be read over the course of a year, not all at once (called Journeying Through Grief). Grief is a process, and we can’t walk through every stage right away, even if we wanted to. In fact, sometimes it can be better if we don’t try to rush grief. Bob Deits, the author of several books on grief, said:

“Grief is the last act of love we have to give those who have died.”

If you’re just trying to avoid pain, you might be tempted to rush through your grief as fast as possible. But if, on the other hand, your grief is a way to express your last act of love to one who has died, you might rather take as much time as you need to make sure you express it well.

There’s no hurry or timetable with grief. But I can say there is another side of it. As I mention in the final chapter of this book, I’m thankful now to be able to see it for myself.

There is another side of grief. As Jesus said to His disciples just before He died:

“You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy” (John 16:20b).

That may have sounded like an outlandish promise to the disciples at the time, except for the fact that it was Jesus who was saying it—the same Jesus whom they had seen heal the sick, walk on water and raise the dead. If anyone could make a promise like that and live up to it, Jesus could.

So with that hope in mind, and with my heartfelt condolences for the loss that you’ve experienced, I invite you to read the 12 messages that follow. I pray that they give you hope for your future—and that they help you to see the stones along the way flash like rubies.

In Christ’s love,
Eric Elder

P.S. Throughout the book, I’ll be talking more about Lana and our 6 kids. As a way of introduction, here’s one of my favorite pictures of our family, taken at Christmastime in 2009. I’m 2nd from the left and Lana’s 2nd from the right. The kids, from left to right, are Karis, Kaleo, Josiah, Bo (in front), Lucas (in back) and Makari.

Eric Elder Family ~ Christmas 2009

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER 1 – 2 STORIES AND A CONCLUSION (Back to Table of Contents)

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

You’re reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Dear friends, thanks so much for your thoughts and prayers and kindnesses since my sweet wife Lana passed away on November 15th. It’s been 4 months now and I wanted to share some thoughts with you on Lana, healing and God’s will. I apologize in advance for the length of this message, but if you’ve been discouraged or having trouble trusting God, especially in the face of significant loss, I hope you’ll read this message. This message is really just two stories, with some follow-up comments to help you bring them together and apply them to your lives.

I haven’t shared these stories publicly until this week, as they are so personal and intimate that I’ve just been treasuring them in my own heart. But I feel they’re important to share as a way of testifying to what God is doing in my life, and hopefully encouraging you at the same time.

The first story started on the day of Lana’s funeral, on November 20th, 2012. Before she died, Lana had asked me to preach at her funeral if it ever came to that. She said I didn’t have to do it if I didn’t think I could, but if I could, she wanted me to be the one to do it. I did get up and preach, but not without seriously considering backing out several times, even a few times during the service just before I was about to speak. I just wasn’t sure if I could do it.

One of the reasons I felt so unsure, apart from the sadness I felt in my heart from already missing her, was that I felt like I had lost so much in the days leading up to her death. I had not only lost my best friend, my encourager, my partner in ministry and, apart from Jesus, the greatest source of joy and delight in my life. We had also depleted all of the money in our bank account during those final months of her battle with cancer. On the morning of her funeral, we had $26.45 in the bank. I felt like I had lost everything. (I hadn’t, but I felt like it.)

The morning of the funeral, I prayed that God would give me the strength to do what I wanted to do and needed to do. I also prayed, more as a wish than anything else, that God would give the kids some kind of inheritance from Lana from the gifts that came in. I knew that no amount of money would make up to them for losing their mother, but I wished I had something I could give them as an inheritance from her. $26.45 wasn’t going to go very far among the 6 kids.

So I prayed that God would provide enough from the memorial gifts to pay for the funeral and still have some left over for the kids. From past funerals, I knew that the gifts that are received are sometimes just enough to pay for the funeral and that’s it, so I wasn’t expecting much. But then in my heart, I prayed, “God, if there’s any way to give the kids $1,000 each as an inheritance, that would be great.” But then from deeper still in my heart, I thought that what I would really like for them is if I could put $5,000 into each of their bank accounts. I quickly did the math and $5,000 times 6 kids would be $30,000.

There’s no way, I thought. With $26.45 in the bank, I knew it was an outlandish request. But I laid it out before God anyway. Later that day, I got up to preach at Lana’s funeral. (If you haven’t watched it yet, I’d encourage you to watch it online at lanaelder.com. It was like no other service, funeral or otherwise, that I’ve ever been to before and I think you’ll find it both inspiring and helpful. So please watch it if you can!)

Starting that day and the days that followed, people did begin sending in memorial gifts for our family in honor of Lana. Some gave $5, some gave $15 and some gave $20 or $100. A few gave $1,000 and some even gave $5,000. By December 4th, just 2 weeks and 1 day after the funeral, we had received just over $30,000 from over 200 different people, none of whom knew about my private prayer to God!

Now keep that date and that astounding answer to prayer in mind as I tell you the 2nd story. For it was on December 4th, just one year earlier, that we had first discovered the lump in Lana’s breast, our first indicator that anything was even wrong at all.

It was on that day that we had heard a missionary talk about their work in Kenya, teaching women how to do self-exams for breast cancer. Later that night we checked and discovered the lump. We thought it was probably nothing serious, as is often the case. But over the next few weeks, and after a mammogram, then an ultrasound and finally a biopsy, the doctors confirmed that the lump really was cancerous. At that time, the doctors had no reason to think that the cancer had already spread. They felt that with treatment, they could remove it and all would be fine. We were shocked but felt this was beatable.

A few days later, Lana was listening to a podcast on her phone of a sermon that gave her some encouragement. When she was done listening, she handed her phone to me so I could listen to it, too. But as she handed me her phone, I felt God speak to me as loud and clear as any time I’d ever heard Him speak in my life. Although He didn’t speak in audible words, the effect of what He was saying was, “This is a good message, Eric. But it’s not My message for you in this situation. This time I have something else in mind.”

As I listened to the message, I found it was all about praying “bold prayers,” that we shouldn’t just pray for a “C” on a test, but for an “A.” That we shouldn’t just pray that we would survive a difficult marriage, but that it would thrive. That we shouldn’t just pray for a sickness to go away, but for a long and healthy and abundant life instead. It was the kind of message I would normally believe and receive and be encouraged to pray with all my heart in whatever difficult situation I faced.

But if God had really spoken to me, then what was He saying in regards to Lana’s healing? With a great sadness in my heart, I felt He was saying, “Eric, I know you have the faith to ask for the moon and get it. But not this time. This time I have something else in mind.” God brought to my mind Psalm 23, reminding me that He would be with me, even in the face of death:

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me…” (Psalm 23:4).

I felt that verse was a little extreme. This cancer was beatable. It didn’t have to end in death. Then why was God telling me this? But the following week I found out why.

A few days later, Lana went in for a few more tests. She had started having some other symptoms, some unexplainable bleeding and intense lower back pain. The tests showed that it was worse than the doctors initially thought. The cancer had already spread to her lungs and liver and spine. In addition, the cancer was in a special category called “triple negative,” which meant that it wouldn’t respond to normal treatments that worked for other types of breast cancers. There was no cure, the doctors said. The best they could do was to treat the symptoms and try to keep her as comfortable as possible for as long as possible, but that the cancer would eventually take her life. Statistically, the doctors said she had about 1 to 3 years to live, depending on how she responded to treatment. The majority of women with Stage 4, triple-negative breast cancer don’t make it past 5 years. And only 1 in a hundred ever make it to 10 years.

We were devastated. But having heard God speak to me the week before, even before the doctors told us what was going on, somehow gave me great faith. Not faith that Lana would be healed, although I believed God could still heal her in an instant, but faith that He would be with us through it all. This was no news to God. He had already revealed it to me before we, or even the doctors, had an inkling about what was coming.

Knowing that God was with us gave me great peace in my heart. But as comforting as this was, I still didn’t know how to walk forward in a practical way, given what I felt God was saying to me. If God had told me that Lana was going to be healed, and to walk in faith and stand on the promise of the words He had spoken to my heart, I knew how to walk that out: read and reread the Scriptures, fast and pray, gather others to fast and pray, and look for answers from any doctor or person of faith who could help us beat this disease. But if I had really heard right, and God was really saying, “I know you have the faith to ask for the moon and get it, Eric, but not this time,” how could I walk that out? How could I stand on something that I didn’t want to believe and didn’t want to be true?

Was I supposed to just give up on the possibility of healing? Not bother praying at all for her? Not ask others to join us in fasting and prayer? Not go to the doctors to try to get whatever help we could find? I felt that taking any of those paths would be utterly wrong. Lana wanted to live and I wanted her to live! And who knows? Maybe I had heard wrong. Maybe the doctors were wrong. And even if I had heard right, and the doctors were right, maybe God would still heal her miraculously! God’s default position on healing is that we should be healed, as evidenced by the many ways He has created our bodies to heal themselves, to automatically seal up cuts, fight off infections and repair damaged tissue. God has demonstrated His desire for our healing throughout the Bible, performing miraculous healings from cover to cover. God loves healing and wants us to be healed! There’s no doubt that God is a healing God!

So I tried to remember what other biblical characters when they received a word from God that they didn’t want to believe either.

I thought of Hezekiah, who was sick and dying when God spoke to him through the prophet Isaiah, saying that Hezekiah’s sickness would end in death. Hezekiah wept bitterly and pleaded with God for a different outcome:

“Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before You faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in Your eyes” (2 Kings 20:3a).

God heard Hezekiah’s prayers, healed him and gave him an extra 15 years of life.

I thought of King David, who got a word from God through Nathan the prophet saying that the child born to David and Bathsheba would die. But David didn’t give up and didn’t give in. He fasted and prayed and wept before God every night saying:

“Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live” (2 Samuel 12:22).

In David’s case, however, his child still died after 7 days, but not without David pleading with God for a different outcome.

Then I thought of Jesus, who, when faced with His own imminent death, knelt down and prayed so earnestly that His sweat fell like drops of blood:

“Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Jesus knew what His Father was asking of Him, yet still He pleaded for another way, that the cup He was about to drink would somehow be taken from Him. Yet Jesus yielded to His Father’s will, even over His own.

From these 3 stories of Hezekiah and David and Jesus, I felt I was in good company that even if I had heard right from God, I could still plead with Him, in fasting and prayer and tears, and pour out my heart to Him for what Lana and I both wanted: that she would be healed completely and gloriously and continue to live a long, healthy and abundant life.

So we fasted and prayed and called others to join us in fasting and prayer. We talked to doctors and nurses and researchers and nutritionists, both locally and globally, to see if God had an answer through them. We called the elders of our church, and 2 of our former churches, to anoint us with oil and pray for Lana’s healing. We held prayer meetings in our living room and drove and flew to get prayer from some of the most faith-filled men and women of God we knew.

As time marched on, however, the tests continued to come back blacker and bleaker. Either what God had spoken to me at the beginning was true, or God was preparing the way for one of the most miraculous turnarounds of all time. Either way, we felt good about the steps we were taking, about doing everything we could possibly do to bring about her healing and about trusting in God completely, whatever the outcome.

As much as Lana and I, and many of you, wished that the outcome had been different, I can say that when it came time to say our final goodbyes, we had no regrets. We had done everything we could think of doing to keep her alive, and God had kept His promise to be with us through it all.

Let me tie these 2 stories together for you by sharing 2 journal entries from December 4th, 2012, the first of which was written early in the morning as I was remembering the one-year anniversary of finding the lump that took Lana’s life, and the 2nd of which was written at midnight that same night, after receiving the checks in the mail that put us over $30,000 in memorial gifts in her honor.

“12/4/12 – Father, thank You for revealing to me and Lana the lump in her right breast one year ago today… Lord, any thoughts about this being the one-year anniversary of the day You revealed this lump? ‘I’ve given you a great gift, Eric. A chance to see into the future, and to make your plans accordingly. I have not hidden what is to happen from My prophets. I warned Abraham about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah before it happened, just as I told him that he and Sarah would have a child in a year, and just as I told you, Eric, that your friends would have a child in a year. Although I didn’t tell you an exact date [regarding Lana], I did tell you what the outcome would be, both by showing you the lump, and by confirming that while you could pray for healing, this wasn’t My will in this case. I wanted you to know, Eric, because I wanted you to have time to plan, prepare and say goodbye properly. And you have done marvelously. Your kids, your friends, your family, are all living testaments to that fact. I also gave you test after test, and doctor after doctor, to confirm this to you, for you wanted the truth, and you knew the truth would set you free. They were hard truths to hear, and hard to watch you hear, but they were necessary to help you absorb and understand what I was saying. I’ve given you a gift Eric, both in what I revealed, and in the fact that I do reveal My knowledge to My children. Lana wanted to live and not die, and she was right to do so, for that’s My will [He wants all of us to live forever!]. But I wanted you to know so you could plan, prepare, and say goodbye properly. I wanted you to care for her and love her and be with her to the fullest extent possible, so when she passed through the veil, you would have no regrets, nothing left undone, nothing more you could have done, but love her thoroughly. I did this for you, yes, but also for Me, for I wanted you to be able to care for her on earth as I cared for her from heaven. You were, and still are, My hands and feet and voice to many on earth. You will be sad, no doubt, for to lose the one you love, when you have loved so deeply, is sad. But you will rejoice as well, for you have been given a great and wonderful gift.’”

“12 midnight – Father, thank You for helping us reach the $30,000 mark that I had asked You for, to give $5,000 to each of the kids as an inheritance from Lana. Lord, we only had $26.45 in our bank account the day of the funeral. It was an outlandish prayer, and within a few weeks, You’ve brought the full amount I extravagantly asked for. ‘Open your mouth wide, Eric, and I will fill it.’ Thank You, Lord! I love You. By the way, the sunset looked delicious tonight, like rainbow sherbet, and I wanted to lick it. ‘Thank You.’ Thank You, Lord.”

Yes, life can be extremely hard. But it also offers sunsets that look like rainbow sherbet! The trick is to not let the hardest parts of life overshadow the best parts about it. God is at work in both. The Bible says:

“Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner… So if you find life difficult because you’re doing what God said, take it in stride. Trust Him. He knows what He’s doing, and He’ll keep on doing it” (1 Peter 4:12-13, 19, The Message).

Friends, God loves you and has a unique calling and purpose for your life, just as He had a unique calling and purpose for Lana’s life. Don’t be discouraged when life doesn’t work out the way you think it should. God is still on the job. Keep putting your trust in Him. He knows what He’s doing, and He’ll keep on doing it.

Thanks for reading these 2 stories, and thanks again for your prayers and kindnesses you’ve shown to me and my family, especially during this past year. It means so much, and is yet one more reminder of all that’s good in life. May God bless you and keep you as you keep putting your trust in Him!

CHAPTER 2: KEEPING YOUR EYES OPEN (Back to Table of Contents)

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

You’re reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Last week I shared 2 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. Based on the responses I’ve gotten, it was one of the most significant messages I’ve ever shared.

This week, I’d like to follow up on that message and share a few more stories to help you keep trusting in 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 areas, 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 perhaps it was something about being in prison that seemed to make 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 desperate 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 God 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, even though 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 by coming to Jesus with his doubts, that didn’t mean he lost his faith. That 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 it with flying colors, as Jesus later 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 glimpse of God is 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 rubbery, squishy bugs with my son. I was already worn out from the day, and going back and forth on these 2 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 that I was still wearing some old reading glasses, as I had lost my new pair a few weeks earlier. As I looked in the mirror I decided it was time to order another new pair, as I hadn’t been able to find mine. On the way back down the stairs to the basement where my daughter was tie-dying her dress, I paused on the steps and reached my hand up to heaven. I 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 these.) 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, under the basement sink, hanging on some bottles of soap and shampoo, were my reading 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 that 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 may 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 3 youngest kids 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 2 books. In an act of desperation more than anything else, I looked up to heaven and said, “Lana, help me!” Within minutes we found the 2 missing books. They appeared practically out of thin air.

But more than that, after we found those 2 missing books, one of my sons wanted to take a break and do some kind of “outside project.” Even though it was the middle of winter and 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 anytime soon, but it was the first thing that came to my mind that would be quick and easy enough to get outside and back inside before we froze.

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 2 months earlier! It was as if they had been dropped down from heaven and had gotten caught in the net for us to find!

How they had survived the cold and the wind and the snow for 2 months, I didn’t know. But what I did know was that within minutes of calling out to heaven for help, I had found 2 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. The moment I saw those glasses in the net, my whole perspective on the day changed. I knew that God was at work and that I was doing exactly what I should be doing. It gave me the strength to go on.

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 might 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 3rd 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 makes you wonder about us and 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 with all that I have called you to do in your life! You’ll be blessed as you do these things, just as will others when you’re done doing them!”

I feel like Jesus keeps telling me, as 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 in Him, even in the face of all that I’ve lost.

I could share a dozen more stories from the past 4 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.

It reminds me of a grandfather who was out fishing with his grandson one day when the grandson asked if his grandfather had ever seen God. His 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 just 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 those who are close to you, like He did when He lost his good friends 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 John could face death with faith. Regardless of the outcome, Jesus never left them alone.

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.

CHAPTER 3: HAVING FAITH IN THE RESURRECTION (Back to Table of Contents)

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

You’re reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Happy Easter from our house to yours! We could all use a dose of faith, and Easter Sunday is a great day to get one. If you’re struggling with trusting in God, even in the face of significant loss, this message is for you.

Eric Elder and Kids

It’s been almost 5 months since we took this picture of me and my 6 kids, not knowing that just 2 weeks later my wife Lana would pass on to be with the Lord (she was inside resting when this picture was taken, as we were in the middle of a 10-hour filming session for a project to give hope to other families facing loss). Since that day, we’ve had to celebrate 7 major holidays without our beloved Lana: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, 2 birthdays, and now Easter.

Each of these “firsts” without her this year could have easily overwhelmed me with grief if it weren’t for my faith in Jesus Christ and the prayers of people like you.

But when Christmas rolled around, God reminded me why we celebrate the holiday at all: Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the baby who would one day defeat death forever! While celebrating Christmas was still hard without Lana, God’s reminder of the reason we were celebrating it helped me to keep a balanced perspective on her life and her death…and her new life with Him.

The same holds true for Easter. While there’s no doubt it’s been hard to go through our Easter traditions this year without Lana, God keeps reminding me of the purpose of this holiday, too. Easter is the day we remember that Jesus rose from the dead and, because He rose from the dead, we can be assured that all of us who have put our faith in Him will be raised from the dead, too, including my dear wife, Lana. Without Lana here with me this week, it’s already been a different kind of holiday. I found myself videotaping the kids during an Easter egg hunt so that I could come home and show her the tape, only to remember that she wouldn’t be there when I got home. But then God reminded me that it’s quite likely that Lana’s not missing a thing. The Bible says that we are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses,” witnesses who have kept their faith to the end and who remind us to do the same.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).

As sad as it is that I’m having to celebrate Easter without Lana here with me in the flesh, the truth is that without Jesus, there would be no holiday to celebrate at all, and there would be no hope of Lana being raised from the dead either. So in the midst of my heartache, God keeps reminding me of the whole truth: not just the truth that she’s gone, but the truth that she’s gone to be with Jesus, and has been raised to a new life in spectacular glory. And having the whole truth in mind brings His peace to my heart. As the Bible says:

“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

We do have hope. True hope. Not a desperate clinging to the mere idea that maybe there’s some kind of life after this life, but a firm faith in the reality that there really is a heaven, and that Jesus is really there, with my beloved Lana right alongside Him.

I don’t want to try to prove to you today that Jesus rose from the dead, but I would like to remind you of the fact that He did rise from the dead and that His resurrection was witnessed by many here on earth. Not only that, but there were others in the Bible who were once dead who were also resurrected to new life and who have also appeared afterward to people here on earth, too!

As for Jesus’ resurrection, and His appearance to people on earth, listen to some of these verses from the Bible:

“When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had driven seven demons” (Mark 16:9).

“Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country” (Mark 16:12).

“Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; He rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen Him after He had risen” (Mark 16:14).

“Afterward, Jesus appeared again to His disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias” (John 21:1).

“This was now the third time Jesus appeared to His disciples after He was raised from the dead” (John 21:14).

“After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me [Paul]…” (1 Corinthians 15:6-8a).

What’s even more amazing to me and that I’ve been reminded of since Lana passed on to be with Jesus, is that I keep reading verses that I’ve read before, but that strike me now in a new light: that Jesus wasn’t the only one who died and rose again and appeared to people here on earth. Listen to this!

“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit. At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people” (Matthew 27:50-53).

Not only was Jesus raised from the dead, but many others were raised as well who appeared to many people in Jerusalem. Even Peter, James and John saw people raised from the dead while Jesus was still living, when they saw Moses and Elijah standing on the mountaintop, talking with Jesus:

“After six days Jesus took with Him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus” (Matthew 17:1-3).

Moses and Elijah were so real that Peter asked Jesus if he should build a shelter for each one of them, even though they had been dead for thousands of years! It was a reminder to them, and to me, that God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living, as Jesus once told the Saducees, the group of religious leaders in Jesus’ day who didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. Jesus said:

“Now about the dead rising–have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” (Mark 12:26-28).

I share all this as a preface to what I’m about to share next. As with some of the other stories I’ve shared with you recently, I do so with hesitancy as I don’t want you to think I’ve lost my mind. I’m also not sure what to think of them myself, for I realize I’m still in the midst of grief, and perhaps the grief is clouding how I think and see spiritual things right now. Then again, perhaps it’s during our most difficult times that we’re apt to be the closest to God and that we’re able to best see what’s really true!

On New Year’s Eve, I was praying on my knees during a time of worship at a large Christian conference, celebrating the New Year with over 20,000 other believers. As I knelt there on the floor, I felt as if Lana was leaning down next to me. She whispered in my ear, as she had done many times before in my life: “I love you, Eric Elder.” Her voice was as clear and soft and sweet as at any time I’d ever heard her say that to me before. I could almost feel her breath on the side of my face.

The next night I felt her presence again, this time as I lay in bed. I wrote in my journal the following morning:

“Father, thank You for Lana’s love for me and mine for her. I miss her Lord. But how can I be anything but grateful to You for giving her to me to be my wife for so many years. This morning I woke up and literally felt her arms around me and heard her voice talking to me. I couldn’t move for several minutes, it was so real, her touch and her words. I even thought I saw her when I turned my head. Thank You, Lord, for her continued presence, even if it is in my dreams, or in that state between dreams and wakefulness. Thank You, Lord, and thank you, Lana.”

I’ve reached up to heaven many times in the last few months and have taken hold of Lana’s forearm and felt like she’s taken hold of mine, only to find the arms of Jesus taking hold of both of us, as He promised that He would never leave us nor forsake us. He promised us that death would not separate us, for we had put our faith in Him. He promised us that we would live forever, not just at the end of time, but right now, in abundant life.

As Jesus told Martha in the Bible, after her brother Lazarus died:

“Your brother will be raised up.”

To which Martha replied:

“I know that he will be raised up in the resurrection at the end of time.”

To which Jesus replied:

“You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in Me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in Me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?” (John 11:23-26, The Message).

Martha said she believed it. Lana said she believed it. And I can say I believe it, too.

As I shared at the celebration of Lana’s life back in November, a good friend of mine sent me this text which helped me to see the reality of Lana’s new life in heaven:

“It is so hard to be in this place, but it is good to know Lana is seeing our Father and Jesus face to face. She is touching them and hearing their voices, and talking to them about anything and everything she wants to. Somehow you, because you are one, are part of that. It takes my breath away.”

When I think about it, really think about it, it takes my breath away, too.

This is the great hope that we have in the resurrection, not only that Jesus was raised from the dead, but that all of us who have put our faith in Him will be raised from the dead as well.

As Jonathan Edwards, the great evangelist, said at the funeral of David Brainerd, the great missionary:

“True saints, when absent from the body, are present with the Lord” (quoting from the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:8).

As Jesus Himself said to the thief on the cross who was dying next to Him and who had just put his faith in Jesus:

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Jesus really did rise from the dead. And those who put their faith in Him really will rise from the dead, too.

If you’ve never put your faith in Christ, let me encourage you, as Lana would encourage you, as Jesus Himself would encourage you: put your faith in Him today. Believe that He died for your sins. Believe that He’s forgiven you of your sins. And believe that He will raise you to new life with Him, starting right now and forever. As the Bible says:

“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

Eric Elder Family, November 1, 2012As we close, let me share one more picture with you. This is a picture we took later on the same day as the picture I shared earlier, when Lana came out to join us again for the filming session. Although her body was weak, her spirit was as strong as ever.

At Christmastime I had a hard time deciding which picture to send out with our Christmas letters. I couldn’t imagine sending out a Christmas picture from now on without Lana in it. But when I looked at the picture of just me and the kids, I couldn’t help but be thankful for all the blessings I have in my life because Lana’s been a part of it. So I decided to send out both.

I share these 2 pictures today because they remind me that I have a choice to make every day. I can either look at what I’ve lost and be sad, or I can look at what I’ve been given because Lana’s been a part of my life, and be glad. It’s the same choice we all have to make, every day.

It’s not a matter of looking at the glass as half-full or half-empty, but trusting God that He will provide us with just what we need when we need it. Zig Ziglar, a fellow Christian and famous motivational speaker who died just 2 weeks after Lana, once said that He teaches advanced math:

You + God = Enough

As the Bible says:

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, KJV).

During the last few weeks of Lana’s life she was still helping me edit a book that we had been working on together on the life of St. Nicholas. After Lana died, I looked at the edits she had made in the margins of the book. In the story, one of our characters said:

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it was beautiful.”

And in the margin of the book, Lana had written: “Amen!”

I felt like she was speaking to me again, and it was another reminder to me that we really are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses,” including Lana, who are cheering us on.

Yes, I still cry. But I can smile, too. That’s the great hope we have because of the resurrection.

I pray the Lord will bless you richly this Easter and in the days ahead. He really has risen! He has risen indeed!

CHAPTER 4: REAPING A HARVEST (Back to Table of Contents)

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

You’re reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

I’d like to share an incredible story with you today about something that happened to me just last week.

As many of you know, I run a website called The Ranch to encourage people in their faith. On the day of Lana’s funeral, the computer that runs our website happened to crash, too, and it’s taken the past 10 months to completely rebuild it from scratch.

To be honest, I wasn’t even sure if God wanted me to rebuild them. When Lana died, I laid everything down at God’s feet, telling Him I was only going to pick up what He wanted me to pick up again. It was a good time to re-prioritize my life, to see what was important to Him and to me and to start over again with so many things.

But after a few months of contemplating all of this, I was convinced that I was to keep pressing on with our online ministry.

One of the notes that convinced me came from a Jewish woman who had visited the website several years ago. On May 25, 2010, she wrote:

“I was sent to your site by accident, and have been reading the stories, and the one about Capernaum has me confused even more. The more I read, the more questions I have. I’ve never seen Jesus portrayed as this site does. I should tell you that I’m Jewish and I believe in the one true G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

“I’ve read some of the stories on your site and have to wonder how they could be true, but I can’t stop reading them either, something just feels right about them. My heritage has ingrained in me that Jesus isn’t for my people. I can’t explain why, but I find some of the stories making me cry and I’m not one that cries easily. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t even know why I’m writing. I’m just really confused. How can this G-d of yours, be the G-d I’ve grown up with? Would Jesus love someone who hasn’t been faithfully reading the Torah for a long time?

“I’m sorry, I know this doesn’t make any sense, and I’ve always been told that Jesus doesn’t love Jews. But after reading some of the stories I just don’t know what to believe. Is it possible he might love a Jew?”

After corresponding with her a few times over the next 3 years, I received this note from her on May 4, 2013:

“Dear Eric,

“I don’t know if you will remember me or not, but I’m feeling led to tell you what’s happened since we first communicated. I wrote you about 3 years ago, about completely believing in the G-d of my ancestors, but not so sure about the Christians claiming Jesus was the Messiah we’ve longed for all these millennium. Someone had accidentally forwarded me one of your Daily Thoughts. I couldn’t get it out of my head….

“In the time that life has moved on for both of us, I’ve learned that I can believe Jesus is the Messiah. He truly is the Son of G-d. I’ve also learned that I don’t have to give up my Jewish heritage or traditions. I can be fully Jewish and a believer. I’ve found a wonderful Messianic Synagogue where I’ve accepted the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ). I’m learning to read the scriptures and see them in a whole new way. I’m amazed how much of the Tanakh is in the New Testament, and how they complement each other.

“I was telling a friend at lunch today, when I’m quiet I can hear G-d speaking to my innermost being. I see Him working in my life in ways I could have never imagined. It is the most wonderful thing in the world. I truly believe the email that was sent to me by mistake was Divine appointment and no mistake….

“Thank you for your ministry and commitment to the L-rd. You truly have touched lives and made a difference. I’m living proof.”

Reading her note made me cry and rejoice at the same time. I wrote back to tell her that her note, along with several other clear indications from God, had helped me to decide to bring the website up again. Even if I never wrote another message, or added one more thing to it, I felt it was important to bring all of the content back online for people to read in the future and have their lives changed, too.

So I began rebuilding the website from the ground up, going back 15 years to when I first broadcast my first live message over the Internet, from my house in Illinois to a friend’s house in Texas, back in the days before Skype, before Facebook, before Twitter and Pinterest and Instagram.

When I did my first live webcast, CNN, ABC and FoxNews had all just started doing their first live webcasts, too. The pope started broadcasting his weekly prayers from the Vatican the month before, and Billy Graham started broadcasting his evangelistic crusades the month after.

I just read this week that Google is celebrating their 15th anniversary this month, too, having launched their little startup company to index the web the same month that I launched The Ranch.

I tell you this to say that a lot of life has passed in the past 15 years, and I had a lot of content to convert, restore and bring up to date from those early days 15 years ago. But as I’ve been reading the stories and messages I’ve posted over all these years, and watching the videos from even those earliest days, I’ve found myself crying, touched by the way God spoke through those messages to people back then, and how He could still speak to me through those messages today.

To my amazement, my old self was able to minister to my new self, because both of my “selves” were simply sharing and receiving words of life from the Word of God.

In those very first broadcasts, which you can now watch online again on our Video Archives page, I shared about keeping your eyes fixed on the goal, and that we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Well, this past year, I’ve been able to start reaping a harvest from all those years of planting. Notes like the one above from the Jewish woman are glimpses. On my 15th anniversary, I posted another video on my website, sharing another glimpse, this time of several trees that Lana and I have planted over the years which astoundingly have all begun to produce fruit just this year. And last week, I got a glimpse of another harvest of another kind.

For 15 years, I have been producing content to put on The Ranch website, including books, music and videos. From the beginning, I felt it was important to offer these resources to people around the world on our website, free of cost, so they could access them anytime night or day.

But along the way, I’ve sometimes wondered if I’ve been shooting myself in the foot financially, paying to put these things online, and paying annual fees to keep the music and messages and videos streaming 24/7/365 days of the year when I could possibly be charging for them instead.

In an effort to expand our reach to as many people as possible, I’ve also started posting our books and music and videos other places online, on places like Pandora and iTunes, Amazon and Barnes & Noble, Spotify, Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook.

About a year and a half ago, some of these services have actually begun to pay me for streaming my content on their sites. On Pandora, for instance, every time someone creates a radio station (by typing in my name) to listen to some of my music, I’m paid .00017 cents per “listen.” It takes a lot of listens to earn a full penny! But over the past year and a half, I’ve been getting checks for $20, $30 or $40 every 3 months, meaning my songs are being played over 70,000 times a month!

I’ve also helped other people record their music and put it on our website over the years. One of these artists is actually doing phenomenal on Pandora now, and is getting a check for over $2,000 every 3 months. Their songs are being played nearly 5 million times a month!

I’ve been thrilled for them, and at the same time, just as happy to get my check for $30 or $40 every 3 months for my music, too.

But last week, when I opened my email from the company that pays my streaming royalties, there was not just 1 statement, but 2. In the first statement, they said I had earned $38 from my songs for the quarter, and I said, “Thank You, Lord.” But when I opened the 2nd statement, they said they were paying me an additional $14,305!

Apparently, every time this other artist who is doing phenomenal was being paid as the performer of their songs, I was supposed to be paid also as their record label, as I had helped them to record their music and publish it online. So the royalty company was catching up and paying me the royalties for all the time that this artist was being paid as well!

It couldn’t have come at a better time, too, as I felt I was being squeezed on every side financially in the past 2 months. I hadn’t been able to write any messages while I was rebuilding the website, and I hadn’t been able to let anyone know of our financial needs either. At the same time, I felt God was clearly leading me to keep rebuilding the website, keep converting and restoring all of the content, and to continue making it all available free of charge to anyone who came to the website, day or night.

The Bible verse that the kids and I have been memorizing the past 2 weeks happens to be Matthew 6:33, which talks about not worrying about what you will eat or drink or wear, but to seek God first in all things:

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

I just kept putting that verse at the forefront of my mind, and kept rebuilding the website. As I was putting some of the final touches on the website on Thursday, that’s when the surprise email came. The check was deposited in my bank account overnight. When I woke up early in the next morning, I couldn’t believe the money was actually in the bank. What surprised me even more was what happened next.

I had decided to use the money to refill the bank accounts of my kids, as they had been having to use some of their inheritance money from Lana to pay for bills for college. If you’ll remember, they had each miraculously received $5,000 in answer to my seemingly impossible prayer on the day of Lana’s funeral. As I began to transfer the $14,305 into each of their accounts, I was astounded that I was able to fill their accounts back up to $5,000 each, to within $3.74! It made me cry again, not just the significance of receiving such a large check, but receiving the exact amount needed to bring each of their accounts back up to where they were 2 weeks after Lana’s funeral. Of course the money is helpful, but what was even more helpful to me was to know that God was still answering my prayers. After going through such a significant loss, it’s easy to wonder sometimes if God even hears us. But this was one more reminder to me that He does hear us…and answers, too. Just because He doesn’t answer every prayer the way we hope, we can trust Him and know that He hears us and does answer, sometimes in ways that that go off the charts.

I just wanted to share this incredible story with you as encouragement to you to keep planting. Keep watering. Keep investing in people and projects and activities that bring glory to God. As the Bible says:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

I wish Lana were here to see the blessings of what we’re reaping right now, such as the Jewish woman who came to Christ or the fruit trees that are now bearing fruit or the music we’ve recorded being played before millions and blessing us back at the same time.

But I have no doubt she’s seeing, enjoying and perhaps even playing a significant role from her new home in heaven in bringing part of heaven to earth as we go along.

Thank You, Lord, that even out of tragedy You’re able to bring fruit that lasts. And thank you, friends, for continuing to pray for us, believe in us and minister to us so we can keep on ministering to others.

I truly appreciate it, and I’m truly looking forward to this next season of planting and harvesting, as long as the Lord allows.

CHAPTER 5: KEEPING JESUS AT THE CENTER (Back to Table of Contents)

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

You’re reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

I spoke Thursday night at to a group of people at our church who gather each week and encourage one another through some of life’s toughest struggles.

I shared with them how God had helped me to keep my life from spinning out of control during some of the toughest times as I was in the process of losing my sweet wife, Lana, to cancer last year.

One of the ways God helped me was by reminding me to keep Jesus at the center of my life. I’d like to share with you today what I shared with them on Thursday night. I hope you’ll be encouraged to keep Jesus at the center of your life, too, no matter what you may be going through today. Here’s the message as I shared it live with our group.

Thanks, Jason, and if you don’t know me, my name’s Eric Elder, and I’ve been a part of Care Groups before. I haven’t been here for this current season of Care Groups, but I used to lead, 2 years ago, a group for people overcoming homosexuality, and helping them with struggles with same-sex attraction and just how to walk through that.

Last spring, I was unfortunately in a group called GriefShare because my wife passed away last November from breast cancer.

And so I’m back again tonight just to share with you a little bit about my walk and keeping Jesus at the center of my life, even through some of these difficult times.

Let me just encourage you to open your Bible, if you have a Bible with you, and just read along with me. We’re going to look at First John, starting in chapter 2. John says, in verse 15:

“Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity” (1 John 2:15-17, The Message).

Keeping Jesus at the center, for me, this past year and a half since we found out my wife had cancer and then she died about 9 months later, you know there were a lot of times when I felt like my world was spinning out of control.

She’s been more than just essential to my life. And this is wrong to say this, but in many ways she was my savior. Of course, Jesus is my Savior. He’s the One that redeemed me, saved me and is the One that’s going to carry me into heaven when I die.

But because I came out of homosexuality, back 28 years ago, really through an encounter with Christ, but it was also through the help of my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time. We had started dating and I had actually been involved with someone else at the time and I had to confess to her that not only was I involved with someone else at the time that I started dating her, but I was involved with another man.

That was an excruciating 2-hour conversation, of me not saying anything, and her wondering if I was an ax-murderer, or what I had to confess that was so terrible. But as I shared that with her, she loved me so unconditionally, and she was so gracious to me, and she just treated me with such kindness and gentleness. Just the way she walked me through that, and through temptations and through life, I can really say she saved me from a lot.

So I know that Jesus is the center of my life. He has been since I put my faith in Him. As one of my friends said about her husband, she said, “Jesus is like my cake, and my husband is the icing on my Jesus cake.”

I said, “Oh, that’s really nice. That was Lana for me. Jesus was my cake, and Lana was the icing on my Jesus cake.”

But as she started going through cancer and the doctors were saying that it was incurable, and they didn’t know how long she had to live, but it wasn’t long, I started seeing that maybe Jesus and Lana had sort of merged roles in such a way that the thought of losing her felt like I was losing my cake, too.

I don’t know if it’s right or wrong, because I know we’re supposed to be so intertwined—you know, it would be sad if she died and I felt nothing—so I know God gives us those kinds of relationships for a reason. But there was a time there, just a few months before she died, where we were having some of these hard conversations about what the future would look like, and what I was going to do if she did pass on.

She was talking to me about remarriage and things like that, and I didn’t want to hear it. That was the farthest thing from my mind. I was not interested in even entertaining the thought. I just wanted her, and I wanted her alive.

And yet a few weeks into that cycle of conversations, somewhere from the back of my mind, as my life was spinning out of control, and what I thought was my center was being taken away from me, I started gravitating in my mind back to some other things that gave me some peace and some happiness and some comfort, and that included former homosexual relationships from over 25 years earlier.

And I just thought, you know, I have no interest at all in getting married again. But there was a part of me that said, “But if there was a man that came along, what would I do then?” Because it didn’t involve the same kind of commitment, the same kind of relationship, the same kind of work, it just was sort of fun. At least that was my memory of it from long ago.

For about 2 weeks, this just really puzzled me and it just weighed on me, because I was like, “This has been over 25 years since I’ve had any serious consideration to that at all.” God had just broken that off of me in a wonderful way and given me a wife and 6 children of our own. So to have these thoughts again and go, “Wow, why would I even be going there? Why would I go back there?”

I had a conversation with Jason and he said that it makes some sense, that when your life is being threatened in these ways and something’s being threatened to be taken away from you, you sort of gravitate towards what brought you peace and comfort in the past. And I knew he was right, but it bothered me that it was even on my mind and was even— do you know what I mean? I mean it was like, “Oh, my gosh, I don’t even want to have that thought again.”

It was about 2 weeks of struggling with this and just trying to work it out in my brain.

Then I woke up one Sunday morning, and I just started reading Romans chapter 1, and I read the passage that really changed my life, where Paul talks about homosexuality and talks about how the end of that is not going to be good for us. That is a passage that changed my life, and it was a hinge and a turning point in everything regarding my faith, as well as my sexuality.

So to read that passage again, I was just like, “OK, that’s right. That’s right. This was in my past. This is not going to be part of my future.”

Then I came to church, and Pastor Baker was talking about the topic again that morning, and he just was talking about it and he said, “You can justify it, you can rationalize it, you can go through all kinds of arguments about it”—and I’m paraphrasing him here, I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but if you’ve heard him speak on this, you know where he stands—but he said, “You know, the bottom line is that if God says it’s not good for you, then it’s not going to go well for you.”

He says, “If there’s anything in the Bible, whether it’s adultery or fornication or sex outside of marriage or before marriage, or any topic in the Bible, if God says this is not good for you, the bottom line is: it’s just not going to go well for you.”

That was like number 2 that day where I was like, “Whew. That’s right, I don’t even have to think about this. The Bible is very clear, and it’s been very clear in the past.”

And then later that night, I had a conversation with a friend and his wife who had a similar diagnosis a few years ago, and he was worried that she might die. He said something that shocked me, he said, “I was wondering if maybe, if God took her, that He was then releasing me and I could go and pursue homosexuality.”

And I was like, “You can’t do that!” Somehow hearing it from someone else, the very thoughts that I was considering, but hearing them speak it as if that was what God was really going to say and I was like, “Now I know it’s wrong. I just didn’t care.” You just get to the point where, “God, I know this is wrong, I understand it’s wrong, but I don’t care. I just want to do what I want to do,” which is what John says:

“The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting…”

You just want to do what you want to do. But if you do what God wants you to do, that’s when you’ll have eternal life. That’s when things will go well for you.

So those 3 things for me: just reading the Word that morning and finding Romans chapter 1 again, just hearing the pastor and coming to church and getting reminded again, “You know, it’s just not going to go well for you.”

And then hearing my friend just speak the words that I was thinking. Just to verbalize those and say, “Wow.”

After 2 weeks of just being perplexed about this, it just cleared up. It totally cleared up and it’s not come back again. I just needed that though, I needed to hear from God in some very clear ways.

Then when Lana did pass away, I didn’t have that struggle. I didn’t have that wrestling anymore, because I had invited God in, and I said, “God, I want to do what You want, and I really want Your will more than anything else. And as bad as this hurts, I am not going to go back into something that would hurt me even more, because You don’t want me to do that. You want me to have life, and life abundant.”

And sometimes, as we’ve learned in GriefShare, when someone close to you dies like that, it puts a wall up between you and people around you, because they don’t really know what that relationship was like.

They don’t know, for instance, this is the first time I’ve ever shared this publicly, how Lana has been so vital, not just my best friend, my lover, my everything to me, mother of my kids, my homeschool teacher of all my kids. Not just all those important things, but how she helped me in this area of sexuality. And then to lose that, it’s hard for me to explain to other people.

And so there’s this wall that sort of goes up between you and other people to where you’re not really able to let them in, and they’re not able to enter in, because they don’t know what that has meant to you and what you have lost.

But in GriefShare they said that God knows what it’s like to lose someone close to Him. And God lost a son. God knows what it’s like to weep. And Jesus lost his best friend in Lazarus. And they can enter in with you. And even if other people can’t, you can still invite God in, and let Him come into your life. Let Him be with you and fill those lonely places.

God really has done that. I still miss Lana terribly. I wish she was here. I would take her back in a heartbeat. But God has really come in. He really has walked me through this. He really has helped me in so many ways.

I want you to look at another passage with me. Then we’ll go to a song, where you can just meditate on what it means to you to keep Jesus at the center. This is in Hebrews, just back a few pages, Hebrews chapter 12, starting in verse 2. The writer of Hebrews says this:

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how He did it. Because He never lost sight of where He was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—He could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now He’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility He plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

“… My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child He loves that He disciplines; the child He embraces, He also corrects. God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us…” (Hebrews 12:2-3, 5b-10a, The Message).

I felt like, as my life was spinning out of control, that God had to sort of correct me, discipline me, bring me back in. And it was a discipline that I welcomed. I didn’t want Him to leave me alone. I needed Him. And the truth is, we all need Him.

Maybe you’re at a place where you feel like you’re either being crushed by God because He’s either giving you more than you think you can handle or you feel like you’re being disciplined by Him or maybe you feel like you’re being punished. I want you just to not think about it that way.

If there’s some path that you’re not on a good path, God can come in and correct you, if you’re willing to let Him, and just let Him help you get back onto the good path.

God has so much for us. He wants us to live. He wants us to live an abundant life. He has great plans and purposes for you and for me. I just want to encourage you to keep Jesus at the center of your life.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for these words, God, and allowing me to share some of the crazy things that have happened to me over the last year and a half. God, I just thank You for walking me through it. I thank You for keeping me on Your path. I thank You, Lord, when I was tempted to veer, that You brought me back. God, I pray for each person listening to this tonight (and reading and listening later!), that You would keep them on Your good path, Lord. Help them to keep walking with You, Lord. Help them to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of their faith. Lord, help them to know Your great love for them. And I pray most of all You’d help them to overcome the world, Lord, and not let the world overcome them. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S. You can visit The Ranch and listen to my son Lucas sing Jesus at the Center.

CHAPTER 6: LIVING A LIFE WITH NO REGRETS (Back to Table of Contents)

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

You’re reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

We had a wonderful “Night of Worship” here at The Ranch last night! Thanks to those of you who came and to those of you who prayed for the night to be a blessed one. It was!

Thanks, too, for your gracious notes from places like the Philippines and South Africa, saying you wish you could be here. We hope to make this an annual event, so perhaps in the future we can meet many more of you in person as well.

During the night I shared 3 video clips of my dear wife Lana that were filmed last year on November 1st, 2012, just 2 weeks before she passed away. She had a message that I felt was perfect for the evening.

So as we were worshipping outside by the bonfire, under the stars and with a half-moon shining, we projected the video of Lana onto the side of the barn and enjoyed hearing what she had to say to us about “living a life with no regrets.”

I’d like to share those 3 clips with you today as well. I believe they’ll be particularly helpful to you if you’re wrestling with a big decision and don’t know what to do, or if you’re just wondering how you can make the most of the life God has given you.

This video was shot by a film team who heard about our situation and offered to spend the day with us at our home, just to capture some memories for us and to offer hope to others who might face a similar loss in the future. Lana agreed, and we spent an amazing day with Drew Waters, Josh Spake and by Skype, Josh’s wife Candice.

Although the film team will be putting all the footage they shot that day into another format, editing it for their own purposes as background for an upcoming movie called Nouvelle Vie (which means “new life” in French) they’ve graciously allowed us to use the raw footage for other purposes like this.

I’ve posted these 3 clips in 1 video on our website at the link below, or you can read the message in the transcript below that.

Here’s the link to the video…

Lana Elder – Living Life With No Regrets

And here’s the transcript…

CANDICE: A lot of people in your position are very fearful, very scared, very worried, but you have come at this from a whole stance of hope, which is very, again I use the word profound. Because it’s unusual, and it’s so—you can just see how God is working and continues to work in your life. And so, describe what that peace is like for you and how it’s helped you battle fear, anxiety, being scared and stuff like that.

LANA: Well, I’ve always tried to live my life with no regrets. And so, whenever I had a big decision to make, I would think—obviously I would pray about it and ask God what’s best, and then I would just have to say, “Will I regret having made this decision?” Especially ones like—I went to college, I met my husband Eric in college and we got married shortly after college and I was pregnant with my first child and had to decide whether I would stay at home or work, and staying at home meant a severe cutback in pay. But I wanted to live a life of no regrets, so I decided I would rather stay home and be with my child, than have the money and have some other luxuries. And it’s a decision I’ve never regretted. So I’ve been a stay-at-home mom all my life—or since college. I know at times some people would wonder why I would get a college degree and then not even use it and stay home. But I remember thinking, even as I was making that decision, if something were to happen to me or one of my children—a death—I would have regretted going to work. So I was really glad—I mean, not glad, but when I found this out—it just made me glad that I hadn’t taken my life to go to work and missed seeing my kids grow up. It just changes everything. My kids, I just love to be around them. And so, having made that decision gives me great hope for situations like this that I made the right decision. It made some impact on our finances, but the other impact is, I think, much greater—the impact it had on my kids’ lives, because I wouldn’t have been able to take them to a lot of the programs like AWANA scripture memorization. I would have been too busy. And my kids, I love them, and they have great hope in God as well and love Jesus, and I think that’s because of the way they were brought up.

CANDICE: How do you describe the peace that passes all understanding in your life? What does that feel like? Describe that from your perspective.

LANA: The peace that surpasses all understanding is just really being with God. And when you’re reading scripture, or in worship, it’s so wonderful to have that peace. And even having made decisions, and seeing how they impact your life over the years, how that decision that impacts your life, and you know that it’s a good decision, that just gives you great peace, knowing that you did the right thing.

ERIC: Can I just have her clarify one thing, too, that not everybody chooses to stay home, if she just could talk about that, that this was the vision for what you [Lana] wanted to do, but other people are called to do other things, because she believes that strongly. I just don’t want to give the wrong impression. So maybe you could just say something about that.

LANA: Absolutely. Yes, I do want to clarify that. Not everyone is called to stay at home. There are certainly many instances where women are called to go to work, or both parents can go to work, but for me, it was really just what I was called to do. That’s just how God created me, just to be a mother and stay home with my kids.

CANDICE: I think that’s wonderful. The reason it’s wonderful is because I think you mentioned a couple things: One is that you would have been too busy to go to AWANA or scripture memory class and that greatly impacted your kids, and 2, you mentioned that, in situations like this, you’ve been able to spend your life with your kids. That’s what you wanted. And I think it just makes it perfect the point that you are in God’s will and right where you need to be, where He has you in this pursuit of what you’ve dedicated your life to, and so I commend you for that. I think that you have fulfilled that calling beautifully. Another question I had for you is, I wanted to see what some of the messages are that you have for Eric and your kids, so let’s start with Eric. What is something that you would like to share with him? What is a message you have for him?

LANA: Eric is just incredible. He’s incredibly talented and can play the piano, write music, do carpentry work, he knows everything about the computer, and he’s incredibly gifted. So I just want him to press on, keep going with a lot of the projects he’s already started. I know he has a couple that he and I have been working on together—the St. Nicholas project, talking about the life of Christ and how much he [Nicholas] was a believer in Jesus and that’s how he became so famous as St. Nicholas, our Santa Claus right now. So I just want him to continue to press on with things. I know he will and God will use him greatly. I love him incredibly much. He’s my prince and he takes incredible care of me and the kids. So I’m not worried. That’s another thing that makes passing into heaven at this time just so peaceful, because I know the kids are going to be in great hands, with Eric taking care of them.

CANDICE: Thank you for sharing that Lana. What about for the kids? What message do you want to tell the kids?

LANA: My kids have been just wonderful. I was blessed, again, to be able to homeschool, and Eric encouraged me to do that as well [because Lana wanted to try it]. He was a great encouragement, and my kids, I just know that they love Jesus. That’s been great comfort to know that they’re going to do great in life in whatever God has called them to do. I don’t know what they’re called to do, each of them yet, but I just know that they’ll do well, because everything they do, they do so well. I have no fear of anything going wrong, I just know they’re going to be blessed for the rest of their lives. I had 6 blessings. They’re awesome. I’m going to miss them.

CANDICE: What dreams do you have for your kids?

LANA: My dreams for my kids is just that they would love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. And they do that, and so whatever dreams that they have, I know that God will help them fulfill them, whatever it is. Because if they keep seeking God, they’re going to be on the straight path. They’ll do what God’s called them to do and so that’s my dream, that they would do that, they would just keep loving Jesus, and loving each other and loving their neighbors.

CANDICE: Lana, what dreams do you have for Eric?

LANA: Pretty much the same thing. Like I said, he’s incredibly talented, and gifted and can do anything, and he has great dreams for some projects that he’s working on, and I just pray that he can just continue to fulfill those dreams and do what God’s called him to do. I know that God has a unique plan for my family, but for everyone, God has a unique plan, and I know that if they just keep following Jesus, and asking Him for direction, they’ll do well. And your dreams [Eric] will come true.

ERIC: They have. They already have.

LANA: I know. Love you, buddy.

DREW: I’ve got a question for you. What do you hope that people watching this get from it?

LANA: I would hope that the people that are watching this, that they would know that they have a unique calling in life. Everyone God created so uniquely, like everybody has different fingerprints, just so unique. So I would hope that people watching this would know that God created them uniquely, that He has different dreams for them as well. But if they keep following God, or asking God for direction, that God will show them what their unique place is in the world, what they’re uniquely designed or created to do, that they would just keep seeking God, and keep seeking the answers to what they feel called to do.

DREW: Lana, I’ve got another question for you, and this is a very direct question, so I apologize for it, but you don’t seem fearful of death. Why is that?

LANA: I’m actually not fearful of death and I believe, the only thing I can attribute it to, is just having followed God for so long, waking up and talking to Him each day, throughout the day, He’s helped me through many things. And since I am talking to Him all the day long, death will be just like meeting Him and talking to Him all day long—but without my kids and family [laughter]. I don’t know why I don’t fear death, but God has been such a loving God to me and I feel like I’ve been so blessed throughout my life, like I said earlier, about living my life with no regrets, and just doing everything I’ve wanted to do. Even the past years, I’ve gone everywhere I’ve wanted to go. I wanted to go to Israel and see the Holy Land and I got to go there 5 years ago, and then miraculously got to go 2 years after that. So I’ve been to Israel twice and I’m so blessed to have done that. So I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do, and I don’t have—there’s not like one place I’d like to go see still or anything that I still need to accomplish. So I feel like I’ve done everything, and I can go see Jesus at any time. It would be fine. But I know it’s hard for people who I’m leaving behind. Since my diagnosis, I’ve tried to live my life like I’m going to live. I didn’t want to live like I’m going to die. I wanted to live like I’m going to live. So that’s all I’ve done, just keep going on with the normal day. But I know it’s hard for the people that are left behind, because I feel their pain. I feel sorry for them, because I would like to be with them as well. But also, I just love Jesus, and I’m looking forward to that day, too.

ERIC [later that day]: They just asked me to say a few words to you, and there’s just not enough words to express what you’ve meant to me. I remember on our wedding day, I just said to you that you were a gift from God to me and I wanted to treat you as a gift. You’ve been just a super gift, and I feel like I’ve unwrapped layer after layer of you. You’ve just given yourself to me in everything. You have sacrificed so much for me, for the ministry, for the kids—just everything. You’re a giver, and you’ve just given your life away. And I can’t think of anything better you could do with your life. You don’t just live your life, you give your life. That means so much to me, and I know that’s going to mean a lot to our kids, just to know that your life was not lived in vain, and that your death won’t be in vain if you do die. If you’re healed, hallelujah! That won’t be in vain, either!

I gave this to Lana—it’s a little plaque—for our anniversary back in April this year, and it says, “And they lived happily ever after.” It just reminds me of the joy that we’ve had together. You know, I’m going to cry a lot if you pass away. But I felt like God said, “Tearfulness is OK. Fearfulness is not.” So I think it’s OK to be tearful, but I’m not fearful, either.

And this just came in the mail today. I just got 2 more tiles for your collection here and I just wanted to unwrap this with you. This is a quote from Alfred Lloyd Tennyson. It says:

“If I had a flower for every time I thought of you, I could walk through my garden forever.”

It’s so true. I’m sure there won’t be a day that goes by that I don’t think about you. And this is really from me, and the kids and from everybody that knows you, and it just says, “You are loved.” And you are.

LANA: You’re really good at expressing your love to me all the time. You’re just always so kind and so generous. He [Eric] makes it easy for me to love him because he’s so much like Jesus, always thoughtful and kind and he puts me above himself all the time. He wants to make sure I’m taken care of. So I just appreciate these things, too, his gracious, kind gifts, thoughtful gifts, just incredible.

ERIC: Thanks. And I’m not like Jesus, but I was thinking just last week as you were just laying in bed and the pain was on you, and even in your pain you were writing a message to our subscribers in different countries and giving them hope and encouraging them with your hope. And I was just thinking of Jesus on the cross, just going through the pain and suffering for each one of us, and I thought, “Wow, you’re like Jesus! I’m married to someone like Jesus!” So I’m just so thankful to you and I just love you so much.

LANA: Thanks, thanks a lot. I love you.

JOSH: Let me ask you a couple questions. To your children, what is your wife’s legacy?

ERIC: For my children, just to say what Lana’s legacy is, I think her heartbeat is to give. She wants to give, give and give some more. And I think it’s hard for her to do. I think she’s struggled with it because we have so many needs. We all have needs. The kids have needs, and Lana has needs, and yet she’s just given so much. We give money away and we give things away and she gives food away and she just gives away. I feel like she’s a giver. I know that’s her heart, even for some of the projects we’re working on now, just to tell, for instance, the St. Nicholas story, of a man who gave his life away, too, because he was following the One who gave His life for all of us. So I think that’s her legacy. I feel like she’s following Jesus and that she denies herself many times so that she can give, and I don’t think that you can get better than that.

JOSH: How long have you all been married?

ERIC: We’ve been married 23 years, and we’ve known each other 28 years, and they’ve been super, all super. I have no regrets. I can’t complain that she’s being taken now. How could I complain to God and say, “God, why did you take her?” All I should be able to do is say, “God, thank You! How could You possibly love me so much that You would give me 28 years with her?” So I’m sad. I’m disappointed if you go. But I cannot complain, for one single day.

JOSH: How is she not replaceable?

ERIC: How is she not replaceable? I can’t think of how she is replaceable. I can’t imagine anything—I mean there is nothing that could replace her. She’s a unique creation of God—one of a kind. There’s no replacing any one of us. We’re all here for a reason, we’re all here for a purpose, just like Lana. There are lots of people that we love, lots of people that are friends, lots of people that do a lot for us and we’re really close to, and I don’t think any of us are replaceable.

JOSH: I’m going to ask one more question. So the heart of the story of Nouvelle Vie is finding life. And we don’t know what’s going to happen, right? You know God is a miraculous God and God could really pull through, or He may choose not to, and whatever it is, He’s glorified in all things. If God chooses to take your wife from you, how do you persevere? How do you go on?

ERIC: Nouvelle Vie means “new life,” and for me, as a Christian, I’ve already been given a new life. And some people say, even if Lana dies, we’re going to pray and raise her from the dead. And I love that. I would love to do that. I have prayed that for some of my friends in the past, too. But the truth is, I know what being dead is like, and I’ve already been dead, and Jesus has already raised me from the dead. I’ve now got a new life and now I’m going on. I’m going to have a new life forever because of Jesus and what He’s done for me. So we could pray that Lana would be raised from the dead, and that might happen, but the truth is that she’s already been raised from the dead. She knows what a dead life is like and she’s been given a new life already, and that’s going to continue on for eternity. So to me, that’s part of the hope of Nouvelle Vie, that it speaks about the new life that we can have right now, today, starting this very day. You don’t have to wait till you die to be raised from the dead. You can be resurrected. You can be redeemed. You can be restored, anytime you choose to just put your faith in Christ, to ask Him to forgive you of your sins. He will take you to be with Him forever in heaven, and give you a whole new life here on earth. So that’s the hope that I have, and the courage that I have, that your passing [Lana] really is “passing.” As the Bible says, it’s a sleeping, you fall asleep, then you’ll be woken up by Jesus when He comes back for us. It’ll be a short sleep for you, and maybe a long few years for us, but in the light of eternity, it’ll just be a blink of an eye. And I can’t wait to see you again.

CHAPTER 7: BUILDING A SAFETY NET (Back to Table of Contents)

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

You’re reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You might think that walking across the grand canyon on a tightrope without a safety net is crazy. But there’s something crazier still, and that’s doing life without a safety net.

I recently spoke at one of our former churches about how you can build a safety net in your own life to keep from losing your faith in God, even in the face of significant loss. I’ve included a link to the message below, and the text of the message below that just as I gave it that morning.

Here’s a link to the audio…

Listen to “Building A Safety Net”

And here’s the text of the message…

Thanks, Tony. I made it through the first hour, but I’ll tell you, I had to grab a box of Kleenex to do it.

This is the first time I’ve stood up and preached on a Sunday morning since 10 months ago when I preached at my wife’s funeral. Just putting on my suit this morning—this is the same suit and shirt I wore preaching her funeral—and just putting it on again today, I said, “OK, God, I think I’m ready.” But can I ask you to pray for me, too, because I need all the help I can get. Let’s pray.

“Father, we thank You so much for walking us through the tragedies of life and just being there for us. Thank You for other believers, and especially for people in this room who have walked our family through this as well. I just pray that You would speak to each one of our hearts, Lord, that You would just help remind us that You are there, that You are with us, and that You can walk us through anything we go through. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

When Ron asked me to preach and to join in this series that you’re doing on “Who We Are,” and he asked me in particular to preach on this message, “Who We Are As The Church,” I was very happy to say yes. Because I am a strong believer in the church. And the church of course is not just the building and the bricks and the place where we gather, the church is the body of believers, the church is you and me, doing life together, that is the church, and that is who we are.

So I just want to talk to you today about the value of the church, the power of the church, and of course, you’re here this morning, so that means you’re already reaping the benefits of being part of the church. But I also want to encourage you this morning to get involved in a deeper way with some of the people around you. Because when we do life together, with close friendships, that’s when we really grow the most, that’s when we can support each other the most, and that’s when we can be supported when we need help as well.

We’re all going to go through losses. You might not have had a loss like I had this past year, but we all suffer losses in all kinds of ways: loss of job, loss of relationship, loss of health, loss of finances, or as in my case, loss of someone that I dearly love. It’s a part of life and we’re all going to go through it. So my encouragement for you today—this is my bottom line of the whole thing and then I’ll expand it—my bottom line is just get plugged in to some other believers so you can be there for them and they can be there for you. And that way you can get through these tragedies without losing your faith in Jesus. OK? Let’s start off.

Do you recognize this guy [showing photo of a man walking across a tight rope]?

It’s Nik Wallenda, who 3 months ago walked across a gorge near the Grand Canyon, live on international television—without a safety net underneath him.

Just last week, this clip was voted the number one moment on TV for 2013. Of all the different—the final episode of “The Office,” or whatever other moments there were—this was the number 1, the moment that people most were riveted by—as they watched this man, live on television, walk across a tiny wire—never been done before—across the Grand Canyon, without a safety net below him.

And you might say, “That guy is crazy.” And you would be right! But I’ll tell you, there’s something crazier, and that’s doing life without a safety net. And I want to talk to you this morning about how you can build a safety net under you. Because the truth is, even though he had no physical net, that man had a lot of people around him.

As you watch him do that, and you watch the tape of it, there are people on one side of the canyon, people on the other side, he’s been training for years, there were people talking to him in his headset, warning him about the wind, making sure things were going all right, talking to him the entire way. He’s talking to God. He’s talking to his team. This man was prepared. He did not do life alone, and you cannot do life alone. It’s even crazier, if you think you can do life on your own, and I’ll tell you some stories about me over these last couple years, particularly this last year and a half of walking through and how I just could not make it on my own.

A lot of things helped me through, my faith in Christ being the chief among them, but the believers in the body, coming around me was right up there and really helped make this so that I didn’t lose my faith as well.

This reminds me of a little cartoon. My kids love these cartoons and show them to me. I love this one.

Cartoon:  Don't worry, I got your back!

This shows 2 stick figures and the one says, “Don’t worry, I got your back,” and he’s holding the other stick figure’s back in his hand.

Who’s got your back? And whose back have you got? That’s what we’re talking about today. When we were searching for these, I found a few others. I just throw these in for your entertainment.

Cartoon: Well that's not a good sign.

The next one says, “Well, that’s not a good sign,” and the sign says, “BAD.”

Cartoon: Stop! You're under a rest!

The next one: “Stop, you’re under a rest!” If you’re not a musician, that’s a quarter-note rest, and he’s under “a rest,” so as a musician, that’s actually funny.

Cartoon: I found this humerus

And you might not like this, but I found this humerus. This is your humerus [pointing to forearm].

Anyway, when I talk about grief and death, it can sometimes be a heavy topic, so I hope you don’t mind if I lighten it up at some moments.

Let’s open our Bibles, and I would like you to look at 3 scriptures today. The first one is in 1 Peter chapter 2. It’s in the New Testament near the very end, 1 Peter chapter 2. We’re going to look at 3 different passages that talk about doing life together. This first one in 1 Peter chapter 2 is talking about coming together as “living stones.” This is, to me, the picture of the church. It’s not the brick and mortar that we see, it’s us as a people, we are living stones. 1 Peter chapter 2, verses 4 and 5, says this:

“As you come to Him, the Living Stone [that’s Jesus]—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5).

We are living stones. We are the church, not a building, but a people.

Let’s look at Hebrews, chapter 10, verse 25, also in the New Testament there, towards the end. This is a verse that talks about the importance of gathering together—being with other believers. Hebrews, chapter 10, verse 25, says this:

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).

It’s very straightforward. Get together with other believers so you can encourage each other. Don’t forsake the assembly of the believers. Keep plugging in to other people’s lives.

And the 3rd verse is in Ecclesiastes, back in the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes chapter 4, verses 7 through 12. This is a passage that’s often read at weddings because it talks about 2 people coming together and helping one another, but I think it also equally applies to us as believers, coming together. That’s why I want to read it to you. Ecclesiastes 4, verses 7 through 12:

“Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. ‘For whom am I toiling,’ he asked, ‘and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?’ This too is meaningless—a miserable business! Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:7-12).

And when people read this at weddings, they talk about the 3 strands being a couple, the husband and wife, and God being the 3rd strand, and that is not easily broken. It applies just as well to us, as a body of believers—2 or 3 or many of us gathered together—are not easily broken. We can help each other. We can help each other up. And we can walk with each other through this thing called life.

I just want to tell you what’s helped me through. As I mentioned, it’s been 10 months since I preached at Lana’s funeral. And I can say that over all my years—I’ve gone to church all my life, and church is wonderful and I still go to church every week—but I have grown the most, and I have been loved and supported the most and I have been encouraged in my faith the most, when I have gotten involved in a small group.

When I get together on a weekly basis with a few—6, 8, 10, 12—other people and study the Word of God, pray with each other, share with each other, that is by far the place I have grown the most in my faith, where I have been most encouraged, most supported and I have been able to use my gifts to encourage others as well.

If you’re not in a small group right now, I encourage you to consider doing it—and not just consider it, but do it! But at least consider it. Give it a thought.

I want to walk you through some of the ways that small groups have helped me. And your small group might be a structured thing that gets together. It might be one of your best friends who is a believer that you talk to across the country or around the world by Skype. I’m not limiting the church to just what’s here, but what you’ve got here is awesome. And there are people that are glad to lead you and walk through life with you here, That one-on-one, right-here-in-person connection is so wonderful. So I want to encourage you to do that as well.

At first, when Lana and I discovered the lump on her breast, she wasn’t going to get it tested. She had had this before, and different kinds of tests, and she would go and the doctors would have her tested and tested again and it never turned out to be anything—just false positives, no big deal. And so this is what she felt like again, she felt “no, this probably isn’t anything.” But to me it was different. Something had changed and this was a different thing. I was very concerned about it but she wasn’t wanting to go talk to anyone about it.

We went to our small group one night and we split up—the guys went into the kitchen to talk a little bit and the ladies stayed in the living room—and as I left for the kitchen, I leaned over to her, and the ladies were sitting there, and I said to Lana, “Now are you going to share with them what we’re praying about?” And all the ladies turned and looked at her.

She said, “I wasn’t, but I guess I am now!” I left and she shared with them, and they really encouraged her, just through their life experiences and some friends of theirs, to just at least do it, “for our sake, just go do it.” And I’m so glad they did, because they discovered it was cancerous. They discovered it had already spread throughout her body, that it was Stage 4, triple-negative [breast cancer], and in their words, “incurable.”

Having that knowledge ahead of time could seem like a terrible death blow to your life and your faith, but it was a gift from God, to be able to know that and walk through this, knowing that there was not a good chance that she was going to make it through.

But it started with our small group. You may think, “You know, I can do this on my own.” But we can’t. We help each other. We need each other.

That small group walked us through. They cried with us, they helped us at doctor’s appointments and they were there at the funeral. They helped participate in the service. And they’ve been there for our family since.

After she died, I got in another small group. It was called GriefShare, which you have here at the church, too—a terrific program. And I was so hungry for this program. I couldn’t wait, every week, to go to GriefShare, where we were with about a dozen other people. We just watched a video. You could talk if you wanted. You didn’t have to talk if you didn’t want to, which was perfect, because some days I wanted to talk and some I didn’t want to say a thing.

It was hard. It was extremely hard. One of the lessons was to go home and write down all the things that you’ve lost with the death of your loved one. And I just got so choked up. I thought, “I would fill up pages of what I’ve lost. I do not want to do this, God! I can’t take it.” Just to sit there and list out every single thing I lost when I lost Lana. A homeschool teacher of my kids, my wife, my best friend, my intimate lover. I thought, “God, I can’t do this.”

But the next day I went home and I said, “OK, God. They said to do it. They said this is good for me. I’m going to trust them.” And I did. I started writing down the things that I mentioned to you.

I got to the end of the page and I was actually done. There were some big ones on my list. But I looked at it and I said, “This is what I’ve lost. I still have my kids. I still have my health. I still have my ministry. I still have my friends. I still have my faith.” The list of things I still had was huge. And it just helped me to go through that exercise.

It was hard work. But every week I was like, “OK, give me more God.” Because if you don’t deal with your grief now, it’s going to come out later and probably in ways you don’t want it to.

You can go through GriefShare any time. You can go through it several times. There were people in our class, one had lost her mother years ago and she was just now starting to process it. She said, “I need to deal with this, because it’s coming out in the way I treat my kids, the way I treat my work, the way I treat my bosses and friends. I just need to deal with it.”

Recovery doesn’t mean that you’re going to “get over it.” Rick Warren—some of you may know him and he wrote The Purpose Driven Life—he lost his son to suicide earlier this year. He has done an excellent series on grief, and whatever you think of the man, I’d say set it aside, and watch this series on grief. It is so powerful and so right on. You can go to saddleback.com or you can download an app [called simply “Saddleback”] and watch it streaming on the Internet. But he says that you don’t get over a loss, but you can get through it. You can get through it.

So I want to encourage you: you can get through it. If you haven’t dealt with a loss in your life—some kind of grief in your life—it’s going to come out in bad ways. I want to encourage you: do the hard work.

About a month ago, I felt like I really turned a corner, to where it was no longer heart-wrenching to think about Lana, but actually heart-warming. They say in recovery, that’s a huge step, to where you can look back and think with fondness of the memories, without that searing pain that, for me, accompanied me for so many of the last 10 months.

I’m so glad now to reap the harvest of our garden. Lana always planted tomatoes and peppers and onions and we would make salsa in the fall. We just did this a few weeks ago with the kids and made Lana’s Sweet Salsa recipe. We videotaped it so we would remember how to do it and how to make it. You can watch it online if you want to go to The Ranch and look up “Lana’s Sweet Salsa.

But just to do that with the kids and actually have that be a fun thing, an enjoyable thing, and say, “Yeah, this is what we were doing last year with Mom, and this is so good that we learned how to do this and I want to keep doing it.” Without that terrible pain. I feel like we’ve turned a corner and I’m able to say, “All right. We’re going to make it. We’re going to make it. With God’s help, and with people around us, we are going to make it.”

I also want to say, when you’re in a small group, people show up. They’re able to help you. They’re able to bring a meal. Rick Warren said, when he was standing outside his son’s house and they were waiting for the police to come and take care of all the things, that his small group was there on the driveway with him. They showed up in those first moments. He had been in the same small group for years. He was there for them when they needed it. And now, they were there for him. He said, and I’m paraphrasing, “You don’t even have to say much. In fact, the greater the loss, the less you have to say.” So if you’re worried about what to say, don’t worry. The less say may even be better! Just show up. Just be there.

Rick also mentions that people sometimes say, “Let me know if I can do anything. Give me a call if you need anything.” But he said that’s not really helpful to someone who’s grieving because their world is so befuddled. To me, people would offer that, but I didn’t know what I needed. I didn’t have any clue. I didn’t even know how to get through a day. Rick said, “Just say: I can bring a meal. Do you want it Tuesday or Wednesday?” A simple choice. A simple offer of what you can do. And I would say, “Wednesday.” And I would be happy. They would be happy. And we would get a meal.

So if you know people who are going through grief, show up. Then offer something of service, just a practical, simple help. Give them a choice. If they say no, you can walk away. Or if you know the person well, you might have to just press through and just do it anyway. But show up, and then serve them.

If you’re not involved with some other people in your life, you’re going to have to do it alone, and I’ll tell you that’s terrible to do.

We homeschool our kids. I’ve got 3 in college and my youngest 3 are here in the service this morning: 10, 13, and 15. Lana wanted me to continue homeschooling as much as I could. I work from home, so it’s possible—it’s conceivable at least. But whether I could do it, I didn’t know. She died in November, so we had another spring to go through, January through May. And I didn’t know if I could do it. I didn’t know what to do.

But we tried to keep everything as much the same as possible because so much had already changed. I said, “I’m going to do it.” But I had 2 ladies that offered to help—Christian friends of ours—and they said, “Can we come in once a week and just help with their math or play a game with them or anything?” I said, “Perfect, thanks.”

I knew I could do it then because I didn’t have to bear it all myself. They would come and I was glad they could learn their conjunctions and I can’t even think of everything they learned this year. But I really was happy just to have someone there helping, just to come in and I could go sit in my room for awhile, write a message or do something else.

There are ways that people have stepped in and helped. I’ve had personal friends that have said, “Just call me anytime, day or night,” and I’ve done it.

There were times when I was overwhelmed and I was like, “I don’t know how I’m going to take it.” Even before Lana died, thinking about her dying, I would be like, “I cannot take this.” And my brain would start going in circles and I would think I was going crazy and I would call somebody and I’d say, “Can you just sit on the phone with me. I don’t even know what to say. But if you’ll just sit on the phone with me, I think I’ll be all right.” Then after a few minutes, it would pass and I could say, “OK, thanks.” And I could hang up and I could go on.

If you need help, ask for it. You would think, in my position—I’ve walked many people through the death of their friends, their loved ones, their spouses and I’ve preached at their funerals—I should know this. I should be able to get through this. I should be able to speak to myself and talk myself through anything.

But I heard from another friend, who worked at a cemetery out in Denver, and he said that the manager of the cemetery—who’s been doing this for years and walked thousands of families through their grief process— when his dad died, a few weeks later he was driving down the street and his wife was sitting next to him and she said, “All right, pull over. I’m going to drive.”

He said, “Why? What’s wrong?”

She said, “That’s the 3rd red light you’ve gone straight through.” He had no idea. Of all people, he should have known what to do and how to help himself through it. But we don’t. None of us—none of us—none of us are super men, super women.

Let me encourage you today: get involved in a small group so that you can help others. And when you need it, they can help you, too.

I have one more slide here I want to show you.

Cartoon: This is not a drill

This is not a drill. It’s a hammer. My kids hate that I explain the jokes, but sometimes people miss the obvious. This is not a drill. This life is so serious. Our faith is so important. Your role in God’s kingdom is so important.

I really struggled. Not really in questioning God, but questioning His plan. My kids don’t question that I love them, but sometimes they question my wisdom. They question whether I really know what’s best for them. And I’ll tell you that goes through my brain sometimes. I still have faith in God, but I do wonder sometimes, “Are You sure this is the best?”

And one of the questions I had was, and that God had for me was: “Do you still believe I can heal someone that has cancer?”

And I said, “Yes, God. I’ve seen it before, and I believe I’ll see it again.”

And then He asked me: “Do you believe I can heal someone who has triple-negative, stage 4, terminal breast cancer?” which is what Lana had.

That was a harder one. But I said, “Yes, God. You can do anything, absolutely, anything.”

And God asked a 3rd question: “What will you do if you see someone healed of triple-negative, stage 4 breast cancer?”

You know, part of you just wants to be mad. But the other part says, “I will rejoice. You give and You take away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” And so I just said that to God: “I will rejoice.” And I truly will. “You give and You take away. I will praise Your name forever.”

I believe that prayer broke something, and helped me reach a turning point in my life, to come back and say, “God has a unique purpose and plan for every one of our lives. He had a unique purpose and plan for Lana’s life, and her death, and what we’re going through now.”

And He has a unique purpose for yours. Don’t take what happened to Lana as any indication of what God has in mind for you. She would hate that, because you have your own life. She would want you to keep believing, and she said this in her video before she died: “I want no one to lose faith over this. I want you to keep having faith in the same Jesus that I put my faith in, and hope to see very soon myself.”

Keep your faith. Keep trusting God no matter what. We are the church, His people. Let’s pray.

Father, thank You for this time again. Seal these things in our heart, that we can serve You even better. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

CHAPTER 8: LOOKING FORWARD: 3 STORIES OF HOPE (Back to Table of Contents)

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

You’re reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

I’d like to talk to you this morning about hope—capital H-O-P-E—hope. I know you don’t want to hear about heartache today. We all have enough of that. You want to hear about hope, and I do too.

So I want to share 3 stories with you about how God has given me hope over the past year. I pray they give you hope, and then you can pass it on to others. The 3 stories I’d like to share with you have to do with a ring, an apple and 3 emails.

Wedding RingThe first story is about a ring. Several years ago my wife, Lana, lost her wedding ring one day. She had already been up and going for awhile before she realized that her ring was missing from her finger. She never went without it, so she was surprised and disturbed that it was missing.

So we started looking all over the house. We looked by the kitchen sink where she did the dishes. We looked in the bathroom where it might have come off. We looked everywhere we could, but we couldn’t find it all day.

By the end of the day, we were going back to bed and she thought to look under the bed. There was her ring on the floor. She said, “You know, I remember waking up this morning and hearing this ‘clink, clink, clink.’”

I said, “Well, that would have been good information to know as we were searching for your ring all day!”

She went on to say that at night, when she put her hand under her pillow, she would sometimes play with her ring, spinning it around and taking it on and off. The night before, she must have taken it off and fell asleep, and then it must have fallen to the ground in the morning when she got up.

So that became a little joke between us over the years. Whenever something would go missing, one of us would say, “Did you hear anything go ‘clink, clink, clink?’”

So a few months ago I was sitting with a couple at our dining room table. At one point in the conversation, I looked down at my hand and noticed my ring was missing. I’ve always worn my wedding ring, too, and even though Lana passed away about 8 months before this, I still wore my ring every day. I couldn’t bring myself to take it off. Even though I knew there might come a day when I would take it off, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to take it off. And honestly, I was dreading that day.

So when I noticed my ring was missing, I panicked. I thought, “Where’s my ring?” I felt naked and embarrassed in front of this couple, wondering if they noticed it, too. I wondered what they might think of me—if I had taken it off because I wanted to start dating again or something, which I definitely didn’t! All these thoughts started racing through my mind, all the time wondering, “Where could my ring be?”

Then I remembered something. Earlier in the year, I had decided to start losing some weight. I’m a stress eater, so when I get stressed, I eat. By January of this year I had gained more weight than I had ever gained in my life. I knew that I needed to stay healthy, for myself and for my kids and I wanted to start losing weight again, but I just didn’t have the fortitude to do it at the time. As the year went on, however, I decided to do it, and began losing weight, week by week. The night before I had met with this couple, I was laying in bed and noticed that my ring was loose and could come right off and go back on again. So I laid there in bed, spinning it around and taking it off and on, and then must have fallen asleep with it off.

As I was sat there at the dining table with this couple, I thought to myself, “You know, I do remember hearing this ‘clink, clink, clink’ when I woke up!”

After saying goodbye to my visitors, I went upstairs, looked under my bed, and there was my ring on the floor. I looked to heaven and said, “OK, Lana, now I get it. Now I can see how you could have overlooked hearing that ‘clink, clink, clink’ when you lost your ring years ago.” And so I had a little smile in that moment in my mind with Lana.

Although I was dreading the day when I would have to take off my ring, having that little smile with Lana made me think: “Well, today’s as good a day as any. At least I can look back on it with fondness and a smile, rather than with sadness. So I’ll try and just leave it off.” So I left it off. I still felt naked for the rest of the day, and even today when I look down and see that it’s missing, I feel like part of me is missing, too. But at least I can look down and think about it with a smile now, and with thankfulness for the time that I did have with Lana.

I tell you that story to say that sometimes God gives us those little moments of grace. Moments that we may have been dreading in the future, but when they come, God gives us the grace to get through it—sometimes even with a little smile that says, “It’s going to be OK. I love you and I’ll walk you through this, too.”

In one of the books I read on grief, called Decembered Grief by Harold Ivan Smith, I read a quote that has helped me through this new season of my life. The quote is from an unidentified woman and says:

“It has taken me many months to get to the point where I can say, ‘All right, the future is not going to be what you thought it was. It’s gone, and you’re not going to have it. You just will not have it. Your future went with him. Now you’ve got to build a new one.’”

I didn’t like reading those words at first, but over time I knew they were true for me, too. I’ve come to realize that the future is not going to be what I thought it would be, either. It’s gone, and I’m not going to have it. I just will not have it. Now I’ve got to build a new one.

Many of you know what this is like in your own life. You’ve reached those points in your life where you’ve had to say, “This isn’t the direction I thought my life was going to take.” And at some point you’ve had to let it go and say, “It’s not going to happen; they’re not coming back,” just as I’ve had to say, “OK, she’s not coming back.”

And she’s not. As much as I hate to say that, I know that God still has a future for me. It reminds me that I just need to keep “fixing my eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of my faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross…” (see Hebrews 12:2).

As much as I wish I had my old life back, I know the best thing I can do now is to keep moving forward—to keep saying, “God, I’m going to fix my eyes on You. I’m going to trust You, no matter what, because I know You’ll work it all out somehow for good in the end.” And I know He will.

Apple PiesThe 2nd story I want to tell you today has to do with an apple. There’s a quote I read years ago that I thought was profound and beautiful. It said:

“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is today.”

I thought of that quote this spring as I looked at 2 pine trees in our yard, one of which I planted this past Christmas in honor of Lana, and the other which Lana and I planted 19 Christmases ago, almost 20 years now. The tree I recently planted is only about a foot tall, but the older tree is one of the largest in our yard. We had bought the tree from a nursery that winter and had brought it into our house for a few days at Christmas to decorate it and put presents underneath it. Then, after Christmas, we took it out to my dad’s farm and planted it, not knowing that one day we would eventually be living there ourselves. Over the years that tree has grown and grown, and now it’s one of the tallest that we have.

So over the years, I’ve taken this quote to heart about planting trees, and every year we plant a few more, and a few more, and few more trees. We don’t have a forest by any means, but we do have more trees than we would have had otherwise, had I not stopped from time to time and just said, “OK, I’m going to stop at Big R and pick up a tree and we’ll put it in the ground.”

For some reason, this has been an amazing year for fruit trees, and for all the trees that Lana and I planted with the kids over the years. This is the first time any of them have produced an significant amount of fruit. And not just one tree, but nearly all of them have started bearing fruit, even those we planted just a year or 2 ago, when normally they should take 5 or 6 or 7 years before they produce any fruit. So this year we had apples from 4 different trees, cherries, peaches, and even 2 little plums on a new plum tree! All these trees started bearing fruit—just this year.

When I saw all these trees bearing fruit, part of me was tempted to be really sad and wonder, “How could Lana have missed all that fruit?” But the other part of me said, “Lana would be thrilled to know that all her hard work has paid off and is now bearing fruit—fruit that will last.” And that made me so glad that we just kept planting and planting and planting, because the Bible says:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

Even though Lana is gone this year and can’t enjoy it herself, we’re all enjoying the fruit of all that she’s done.

And picking up an apple tree from Big R is hardly a big deal, but Lana’s investment in my life, and our 6 kids’ lives, and your lives and many other people’s lives—whether it was at home or in her writings or recordings or any of the number of things she invested in—those things are bearing fruit now in so many wonderful ways.

I was preaching at a church last week and took an apple with me from one of the trees that Lana and I had planted. And because it was a smaller congregation of friends that we knew and loved, my kids and I baked some pies for them from the apples off the tree, too, so they could enjoy some of the fruit from Lana’s life as well.

I told them what I’m telling you today: just keep planting. Not all the trees we planted have taken root. Some of them have died—in fact, several have. But not everything we do in life takes root, either. Jesus spoke very clearly about this when He told the parable of the seeds. He said:

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown” (Luke 8:5-8a).

So not everything we plant will bear fruit. But I want to encourage you to keep planting and planting and planting because at the proper time you will reap a harvest, too, if you do not give up.

I had a friend who seemed to turn everything he touched into gold. He was a great businessman and a great supporter of missions. When people would say to him that everything he touched seemed to turn to gold, his response was, “No, but I do touch a lot of things—and when those things that do bear fruit come to fruition, they bear a lot of fruit.” Sometimes in order to bear a lot of fruit, we just need to plant a lot of seed. So I want to encourage you to keep planting. Keep watering. Don’t give up. One day, you will reap a harvest, if you do not give up.

The 3rd story I want to tell you today is based on 3 emails I received recently.

If you’ve been reading along with me through this series, you’ll remember my story about a Jewish woman who emailed me 3 years ago after “accidentally” receiving one of our daily emails when a co-worker sent it to her by mistake instead of another co-worker. She started reading the stories about Jesus on our website, and began wondering if He really was the Messiah they’ve been waiting for for so long. She eventually put her faith in Christ and wrote to me back in May to tell me about her new-found faith (see chapter 4).

Well, was I ever surprised when we hosted our “Night of Worship at The Ranch” a few weeks ago here in Illinois and she came up and introduced herself to me as we were gathering to get some food before the time of worship! Here she was, someone in “real life” who had been touched by something we posted on our website many years ago, and which she had just discovered 3 years ago. As a result, she had a complete change of heart and complete change of life as well. I shouldn’t be surprised, because we hear regularly from people who say how important our messages are to them, but there’s something about meeting people in person who have been touched by what we’ve done that gives us an even greater glimpse of what God can do through our lives when we’re willing to live them for Him.

I tell you that again to say: keep investing in people’s lives. Don’t give up. Don’t become weary in doing good. At the proper time you will reap a harvest, too, if you don’t give up.

In that same message (in chapter 4), I mentioned that some of the music that we’ve put on our website has begun to pay dividends in a big way, with a surprise royalty check that came a few weeks ago from Pandora. And the check came at a time when things were becoming tighter and tighter for us financially, as I haven’t been able to write or do the fundraising that I normally would have done in the time since Lana’s passing. And it came the same week I had finally finished putting all of our books and music on The Ranch website for free, so people could listen day or night without charge, from anywhere in the world.

As I said before, I was concerned I was shooting myself in the foot by not pursuing a publishing or record label for these books and music, but I just kept hearing Jesus’ words in my head, saying:

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31-33).

Well, to follow this up, I received another email from Pandora 10 days ago saying that they had accepted my most recent piano CD, “Soothe My Soul,” to play on their Internet radio stations! This was a huge breakthrough for us, as they’re actually only playing a dozen songs that we’ve produced over the years, which they accepted early on when they were just a small company. But in the years since then, we’ve produced a dozen whole CD’s, and have submitted each one, but they’ve declined each one, saying they simply receive more music submissions than they can include in their catalog. But each year, we keep submitting our latest recordings, and each year, we keep getting rejected. But after 10 years of rejections, last week they accepted our most recent submission and will begin playing it online within the next few weeks!

In case I haven’t mentioned it enough today, let me say it again: keep planting!

And I’d like to mention one final email today—this one came just before I stood up to preach last Sunday at a local church. It came from a grade school friend of mine who is now a missionary in another country. She had reposted a link to my sermon from last week for her Facebook friends to read. Her note, that I just read this morning, said:

“I am begging you….PLEASE take a short time out of your day to listen to this message from my dear friend Eric Elder. It will touch your heart and give you the tools we all need in life!”

She had written me earlier to say how much she enjoyed the message, and I see now that she is passing it along to others. But I have to tell you, the day I stood up to preach that message last week was one of the hardest days I’ve had to walk through yet. It had been about 10 months since Lana died, and was the first time I stood up to preach at a Sunday morning service since I preached at her funeral 10 months earlier. I had only had 4 hours of sleep at best, and when it was 6 in the morning and I was getting my 3 kids ready to go and drive 45 minutes to preach 3 services in a row, I still wasn’t sure what I was going to say. As I was getting everyone ready that morning in the house, I said to myself, “I am never going to say ‘yes’ to preaching again. This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done, to say ‘yes’ to preaching again. There’s no way I can do it.”

If I hadn’t already said ‘yes,’ and the services weren’t about to begin in just a few hours, I would have cancelled if I could have. I truly didn’t know what I was going to say, and I truly wondered why I was doing it at all. Plus, I had already accepted several other preaching engagements for the following weeks at other churches as well. Even though I thought I was ready when I said ‘yes,’ now I wondered if I could ever do it again.

But I did. And God helped me through it. And even more amazing, He spoke to people and touched their hearts through what I had to say. So much so, in fact, that people like this friend in another country is now pleading with her friends online to listen to the recording as it touched her so much. It reminded me of a passage from 2 Corinthians, chapter 4, about how God can shine through the broken places in our lives in ways so people see His glory, even though we ourselves are nothing more than cracked clay pots. Here’s what Paul says to the Corinthians, in The Message translation of the Bible:

“Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.

“If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, He does in us—He lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best!

“We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, ‘I believed it, so I said it,’ we say what we believe. And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise!

“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:5-18, The Message).

I just want to encourage you, God is glorified through what you do, too. Maybe there are days when you don’t feel like getting up, you don’t feel like going to work, you don’t feel like going to a Bible study, you don’t feel like leading a small group, you don’t feel like preaching, you don’t feel like teaching, you don’t feel like whatever it is that you have to do.

Can I just encourage you not to give up? Keep planting. Keep reaching out. If you need time out, take time out, but then get back up and go at it again. With God there’s always hope. He’s given it to me this year, and I hope I’ve given a little bit to you.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You that You can use the weak clay pots of our lives and our brokenness to let streams of Your light shine through it. I praise You, God, that somehow You give us the strength to keep going. I thank You, Lord, for the people who have prayed for us and kept us going, and held our arms up when we couldn’t do it ourselves. Lord, I pray for each person reading this today, that You would give them hope for a very specific situation in their lives—that thing which they’re facing that they struggle to find hope for—I pray You would give them hope, kindle a new flame in them, encourage them to keep going on, keep pressing through and keep planting seeds, for at the proper time I know that they will reap a harvest, and generations down the road—even when we’re gone—will reap a harvest from what they plant now. We pray this all in Jesus’ name, Amen.

CHAPTER 9: MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS (Back to Table of Contents)

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

You’re reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Some of the scariest times in my life have not been those where things are swirling all around me, but actually in the pitch black, in the silence of night. But I’ve also found that some of the most amazing things in life can best be seen when it’s dark.

Here’s a transcript of a message I shared this week on how God can help you overcome fear with His love. It’s one of the most important lessons I’ve learned this past year as I’ve been walking through my own times of darkness…

Good evening and if you don’t know me, I’m Eric Elder. The quick snapshot of my past year has been in some ways some of the darkest times of my life, and in other ways, some of the most enlightening times of my life.

My wife passed away a year ago next week and Jason was here and helped me conduct the service here at the church. She died quickly after 9 months of breast cancer. I’ve got 6 kids, 3 still at home with me and 3 in college, so it’s been—as you can imagine—a difficult year, but an amazing year at the same time.

I just wanted to encourage you tonight that God’s love never fails you. God’s love never leaves you. Even in your darkest hours, I want to encourage you that God is still with you, and I can tell you He’s been with me. I have preached that and taught that for years. Knowing that going into this, I still get into those dark moments and I wonder how it’s going to turn out. Then I remember God’s great love for me and I just know it’s going to be all right. He’s going to work all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (see Romans 8:28).

So I just want to continue tonight in the series that Jason has started in 1 John chapter 4. This is a passage that talks about God’s great love for us, that the only reason we can love others is because He loved us first and sent Jesus to die for us. It is out of His love that comes down to us that we can then extend that love to others.

I’m not going to read the whole chapter to you, but if you need some encouragement that God loves you this week, I encourage you to read 1 John chapter 4. That’s not the gospel of John, not the book of John, but later in the Bible, 1 John. It’s a letter that he wrote, and I’m going to look at verses 17 through 19.

“God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first” (1 John 4:17-19, The Message).

As I said, the scariest times in my life have not been those where things are swirling all around me, but actually in the pitch black, in the silence of night. I was at an amusement park and went on an attraction where you just sit in a seat in a theater and they swirl all kinds of things around you. They had little fake rat tails that ran across your feet under the seats and they sprayed water at you and all these things went by you on the screen.

But the scariest time of that whole attraction was when they shut off all the lights completely, and it was totally silent, and you had no idea what was coming next. You didn’t know where it was coming from. You couldn’t see anything. And I’ll tell you, for all the other things that came at me that day, that was the moment when I panicked. Even though I knew I was in a safe environment and they were going to take care of me—I was going to be fine—I just had this moment thinking, “What’s it going to be?” because it was pitch black and it was totally silent.

Sometimes that’s the way we feel in life. Take kids, for instance. When are they most scared? At night, in their beds, even though there’s nothing there. Nothing’s going to happen. But because they can’t see, they don’t know.

And we’re the same way, it’s when we don’t see what’s going on, when we don’t know what’s going to happen, that we can become consumed with fear. And that’s when we most need to remember: God loved us first and His love is still there for us, even in the darkness.

I want to encourage you, in those dark times, to make the most of the darkness. Because the truth is, there are some things that can be seen better when it’s pitch black outside.

If you’ve ever walked past a house during the day and you look in the windows but they’ve got a curtain up, a curtain like this [holding up a curtain], it’s really hard to see anything that’s going on inside because of the daylight. You can’t really see.

I don’t know if you can see me behind here [stepping behind the curtain]. Can you tell how many fingers I’m holding up? No? Nothing?

You can’t see in. But if you walk by the same house at nighttime—and Jason if you want to turn the lights off—if you walk by the same house again at nighttime and the lights are on inside, it’s amazing, especially with sheer curtains like this. When the lights are on in the house, can you see me now? Can you tell how many fingers I’m holding up now? [the people can see and start to respond I hold up different number of fingers: 5, 2, 3, 1.]

Quite a difference, isn’t it?

I’ll tell you, when Lana died, for those first few days especially, I felt like I could glimpse into heaven like I’d never seen before. It was so dark on my side, but it was so bright on her side. When we were married, we became one, and even death doesn’t separate love. And I felt like I could see into heaven, and she was dancing with Christ, and because, in some supernatural way I was one with her, I was there with Him as well.

It was dark on my side, but I could see into the windows of heaven better than I could ever see before. Thankfully, I was able to keep my eyes open and say, “OK, I’m going to make the most of this darkness and I want to learn everything I can about heaven while I’m here.” And I looked at passages about heaven and when exactly you go there? Is Lana there right now or is she dead in the ground? Is she dancing with Jesus or is she in some waiting zone?

The conclusions I came to may not be the same ones you come to, but I have no reason to believe that Jesus was saying anything other than the truth when He told the thief on the cross:

“Today, you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Whatever “today” is to God, because He is outside of any constraint of time, Lana is there with Him today. She was there the moment she died. She was there with God. God loved her, and God loves me, and all of this reminds me that God is with us all the time. But again, it was because of the darkness that I could actually see.

There’s another story I want to tell you, too. This was when I was driving in California last year. It was September and we dropped our daughter off in Northern California for school. So our whole family took a road trip and went to see my brother and my sister who live out west. Lana and all of us, we took a big drive.

We dropped my daughter off and then we drove down the coast, down Highway 1 that winds along California along these cliffs with hairpin turns. I had been there before—with its beautiful scenery, it’s incredible—so I wanted to take the family on this drive, a couple hour drive to where we were going to spend the night.

But we got a late start for the day and it was getting closer to nighttime. Then the fog rolled in, some rain came up, and all of a sudden it was pitch black. We were practically alone on this road of hairpin turns, because no other car would dare drive on it, except someone random from Illinois who didn’t know any other way to go.

I was amazed how dark it was. There were no cities. There were no streetlights. There were no gas stations. We were out in the middle of a desert and mountains, so there were no houses, nothing inland. It’s just ocean on the other side, so there was nothing out there—it was pitch black. And it was terrifying. It was probably the most terrifying drive of my life.

It was probably also the longest “2-hour” drive, which actually took 8, I’ve ever made in my life and just took us forever to get there. My wife was in a lot of pain from the cancer. We were just trying to get to the hotel. I had given up on the “scenic” idea a long time ago but this was still the quickest way that we knew to get there.

Every once in awhile I would have to pull off to the side of the road. It was so tense. It was so difficult for me to drive and to see. And when I did, the first time I pulled off, I got out of the car and I just sort of “shook off.” I said, “OK, God, You’re going to have to help me.”

Then I looked up. Even though the fog was all around us, it was totally clear above us! The sky was full of stars—more stars than I had ever seen in my life. I live in the country here in Illinois and I thought we had the place that could see the most stars of any place on the planet Earth. But this place had 10-fold—100-fold—what I had ever seen before because there were simply no lights anywhere for miles and miles around. The sky was just filled with stars.

And I thought, as I was driving earlier in the car, that if I just riding and not driving, I would have closed my eyes in fear. But after I stopped and looked up into the sky, I saw a sight I had never seen before. It was incredible. Even though the drive didn’t get any better, my attitude sure did! I was actually driving through a wonderland.

I’ve heard when you’re down in a well— even in the daytime—if you go down in a deep, deep well, you can see the stars up above. Of course, normally, you can’t see any stars when the sun is shining—except 1 star, the sun—but you can’t see any of the others. But down in a well you can see the stars. In fact the deeper you go in the well, the more stars you see.

It’s one of those natural phenomena, just like the curtain here, that veil that I showed you, it actually because of the darkness that surrounds you that you can see things you never saw before.

A 3rd story I want to tell you is about a cocoon.

Imagine a cocoon for a caterpillar—my kids and I were walking down the road this morning and we saw a little caterpillar—imagine all those hundreds of legs or however many they have, and they’re grounded for life, or so it seems.

They’re walking along, as slow as a snail’s pace, literally, and then they crawl into here [this cocoon] to die, or so they think. They spin this little cocoon. This is their last hurrah. And they come in here thinking this is it, this is the end.

But the changes and the transformations that take place inside this dark, claustrophobic place are amazing. When that caterpillar comes out again, it doesn’t have those hundreds of legs. It’s not grounded. Now it can fly, it can flit, it can float. It can go faster than it could have ever gone before. It can go higher than it could have ever imagined.

This is certainly an analogy for our transformation into heaven. In an instant we will be changed, the Bible says. We’ll get new bodies. We’ll be like the angels, the Bible says (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-58 and Mark 12:25). I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like.

But this is also, I think, an analogy for our life here on earth, for the ones who are left behind, as in my case, or for you if you’re in a dark place right now.

I read about a woman who had gone through a similar grief. She had lost her mother. And she said she went into like a cocoon-like state for about 2 years. She said it was dark and terrible for her.

But she said that when she came out, she couldn’t believe the transformation that had taken place in her while she was inside that cocoon. She said she felt more alive, more radiant, more compassionate, more gracious and more loving than she had ever felt before she had entered that cocoon. She learned that God was able to make the most out of her darkness.

It wasn’t necessarily the things that she did, but what God did in her, and what God can do in us, if we allow Him to, during those dark times.

C.S. Lewis’ wife died of cancer, too. He married her knowing that she had cancer. They said it was terminal, but they still hoped she would be healed. He married her, anyway, and she died. He wrote several things about this, but here’s one of the quotes that he wrote that I really love. It says:

“Grace grows best in winter.”

Grace grows best in winter. Sometimes we grow more gracious and loving in the winter seasons of our life than we do when the sun is shining. There are a lot of things that grow well in the summer and in the light. But there are certain things that seem to just grow best in winter, in the darkness.

I want to read one more passage for you, and this is from Romans chapter 8, because maybe you’re in a dark place right now, or maybe when you go home tonight, you’re going to feel like you’re in a dark place.

I want to encourage you that God still loves you. In fact, He may be doing a transformation in you that you’re not even aware of. Don’t give up on Him, because He’s certainly not given up on you. So this is Romans chapter 8, near the end of the chapter. Paul says:

“I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us” (Romans 8:38-39, The Message).

Paul says nothing—nothing—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love, because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

I want to pray for you, that God would embrace you with His love—that you would feel it and that you would make the most of the darkness.

Whether it’s the illustration of the veil, and seeing into heaven, or whether it’s the illustration of the well and a starry night with fog all around, or the cocoon, where it may be dark, but you can trust that a huge transformation is taking place, I just want to encourage you and remind you just to let God embrace you with His love. Let Him make the most out of your darkness.

Let’s pray.

Father, thank You for carrying me through this past year, even those darkest nights, and even those that may be yet to come. I pray that You would help me to remember how much You love me. I pray for those reading these words, God, that You would help them to know that You love them, too. God, I know You’re embracing them with Your love. Your love never fails. Your love has been demonstrated in Jesus when He first loved us and came to die for our sins, so we could be free of them. And Lord, that same grace that saved us is the same grace that sustains us. God, I pray that You would embrace each person in this room, and each person reading this later, that You would embrace them with Your love, a love that can overcome fear, a love that never fails, and a love that can never separate us from You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

C