Resilience 1: When Health Declines


Today, we are starting  a new series called “Resilience.” Our world has just come through a very difficult time over the past two years because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and we are still in the middle of a difficult time with the war in Ukraine. And these world-wide challenges are on top of the personal challenges we face in life. As much as we want to have things get back to “normal” and forget that these ever happened, that kind of thinking will not get us through the challenges that we will face  in the future. The reality is that tough times are part of life in this broken world. At some point, each one of us will face things like poor health, financial loss, relationship conflict and discouragement. The solution is not to build our lives on a foundation that depends on our circumstances being good because that kind of a foundation will not carry us through the storms that happen in life. Instead, we need to learn how to become resilient so that we can endure the tough circumstances that will inevitably come our way. 

The good news is that, ever since the dawn of time, God’s people have endured hard times with resilience. So we are going to look at examples in the Bible of God’s people displaying resilience so that we can learn from them. And then we are going to look at passages in the Bible that show us how Jesus is our ultimate source of resilience. My hope and my prayer is that, by the end of this series, you will be confident that Jesus will help you to face whatever this world may throw at you. Today we are thinking about how we can have resilience when health declines.

How Can We Be Resilient When Our Health Declines?

On April 25, Susan Jacks passed away in Surrey Memorial Hospital. I knew her name from when she sang with a group in the 70s called The Poppy Family, and the most famous song she sang was “Which Way You Goin’ Billy?” But there were a lot of things about her that I didn’t know. I didn’t know that she was born in Saskatoon and moved to the Maple Ridge area with her family when she was nine. I didn’t know that she lived in the Lower Mainland. And I didn’t know that she had a kidney transplant in February 2010.

The first successful transplant of a human organ, and it was a kidney, happened in 1954, which isn’t all that long ago. But in the years since, the medical profession has gained so much experience with transplanting a number of different organs, including the pancreas, the heart, the liver and the lungs, that many of us now probably know someone who has received an organ transplant. I believe that it is important for us to be open to donating our organs, or the organs of a loved one, after death because one  organ donor can save up to 8 lives and be a blessing to more than 75 people. But what really amazes me is that we now have the ability in this world to conduct organ transplants from living donors. Healthy people can donate one of their two kidneys, or a portion of their liver, to give someone else the gift of life.

In an interview which you can find on YouTube, Susan Jacks talked about the dilemma she faced when her kidneys began to fail dramatically in 2009. Having a kidney transplant was much preferred to going on dialysis but donating a kidney is a big deal. As she said, “It’s not something that you think of asking someone for.” Fortunately for Susan, her six brothers and one sister all voluntarily went through the screening process to see who would be a match. And her younger brother, Bill, who gave his name to the song, “Which Way You Goin’ Billy?” donated one of his kidneys to Susan in February 2010. Because of Bill’s sacrifice, Susan was able to have several years of good health. Unfortunately, Susan lost that donated kidney in 2016 due to an infection, and it was kidney failure that led to her death.

My Dad used to often say, “You cannot buy good health.” It’s a gift when we have it. But the reality of life as a broken person in this broken world is that one day, if it hasn’t happened to you already, that gift will disappear and your health and my health will decline. What will we do then? How can we be resilient when our health declines? To help us answer that question, today we are going to begin by looking at the life of Job, whom we find in the Old Testament of the Bible.

The Suffering of Job

Job was a wealthy and pious man who may have lived around the time of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob, about 2,000 years before the time of Christ. Though Job had wealth, lots of livestock, several hired men and a large family, it was all wiped out on the same day. Shortly afterward, Job became ill with painful sores from head to toe. The only thing left for Job was to die, and his wife encouraged him to curse God before he did that. We read that, He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. (Job 2:10)

If we were to continue on in the book of Job, we would see that it functions like a play that takes place on a two story stage where there are a whole bunch of things happening in the heavenly realms as things happen on earth. And what happens in heaven impacts what happens on earth and what happens on earth impacts what happens in heaven. However, Those of us on earth are not aware of all that goes on in the spiritual realm because we cannot clearly see into that world. But all the beings in the spiritual realm are completely aware of what is going on with us.

The first main point of the book of Job is that you and I, as we go about our everyday lives, are representing God, not only to the people around us, but also to all of heaven. So the actions we take and the decisions we make when we suffer have implications both for heaven and for earth, both for now and forever.

The second main point of the book of Job is that the comfort Job both needs and seeks in the midst of his suffering comes when heaven comes down to earth and God appears to Job. Job is satisfied when that happens. That is all that he is looking for. The fact that God gives back to Job all that he has lost and doubles it is a nice bonus for Job, but it is not his source of comfort. God is. Having good circumstances in his life is not where Job gets his resilience from. Job’s resilience comes from knowing that God is with him.

The Faith of a Roman Centurion

Let’s turn now to the Gospel of Matthew, and there we meet someone that has resilient faith for a different reason. In Matthew, chapter 8, we meet a Roman centurion who has a servant who is very ill. The centurion comes to Jesus and asks him to heal the servant. Jesus offers to come to his home and do that, but: The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. (Matthew 8:8)

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. (Matthew 8:10) 

Let’s think about what Jesus said for a moment. The Messiah, the One sent from God to save his people, is saying that among all of Israel, and here he is using the word “Israel” as a nickname for all of God’s people, he has not seen as much faith this pagan foreign commander in a hated occupying army has displayed in that brief conversation. Sometimes God places a great measure of faith in people who we do not expect to have it. We cannot assume that we know where we will and won’t find faith. Someone raised in a Muslim home in Saudi Arabia might have more faith in Jesus than someone raised in a Christian home in Surrey.

The reason that the centurion has such great faith is because he understands authority and how it works. We see that when he said to Jesus, For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (Matthew 8:9) Because he trusts Jesus’ authority to work in his life, then he is willing to wait and watch while it happens.

Waiting Is Not An Easy Thing To Do

Waiting is not an easy thing to do. Perhaps you have heard of the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment from the 1970s. In this experiment, psychologist Walter Mischel would place a treat in front of a child, either a marshmallow or a pretzel, and then offer the child a choice. They could either eat the single treat that was before them, or they could wait for a brief period of time while Mischel left the room, and when he came back, they would get two treats. As Mischel followed the children through life, he found that those who were able to delay gratification as children had higher SAT scores and fewer behavioral problems later in life. 

The results seem to be fairly straightforward, but life is not always so predictable. In real life, sometimes the second marshmallow never comes. Sometimes you do all the right things to take care of your health and you still get sick. The fickleness of life raises another important factor in delaying one’s own gratification, and that is trust. Mischel’s experiment was repeated recently by University of Rochester student Celeste Kidd. Everyone was the same as when Mischel did it years before, but this time, in half the cases the researchers broke their promise and apologized but did not give a second treat. When the experiment was run again with the same subjects, the majority of those who received the second treat, waited for it to happen again, while those who were deceived ate their first treat almost immediately after the researcher left the room.  

Waiting is hard and life is uncertain, so why should we give God authority in our life and wait for him to bring us healing? This is the question that runs in the background throughout the book of Job. Another way to ask this question is to wonder, is God good enough to love us and want to help us? And is God great enough that he can truly help us? These are questions we all need to answer for ourselves. Because without a resounding “yes” to those questions in our heart, we will tend to hold God off at a distance, not fully trusting him with our lives because we are not totally convinced that he is trustworthy. 

And the way that God answers the question in the Book of Job is to challenge Job to look around at the many wonders of creation as he asked him, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” (Job 38:4) All of creation testifies to the greatness of God who created the earth, the sun, and the moon, and placed all the stars in the sky. Looking around, we see that God brought into being some creatures who are great and mighty and others that are microscopic, yet incredibly complex. Overwhelmed by God’s greatness, Job replies, Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know…. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:3, 5-6)

Realizing how little he knew, Job repented and accepted the authority of the Lord in his life. And accepting God’s greatness allowed Job to see God’s goodness. Even though he was suffering greatly, God had come to Job, and God’s presence in his life was enough for Job. 

God answered this question of his goodness and greatness later on in history in a much fuller way through his Son, Jesus Christ. Through his suffering and death on the cross, Jesus demonstrated God’s good and gracious love for the whole world. By rising from the dead on the third day that followed, Jesus showed God’s great power to overcome death, evil, illness and everything else that could destroy us, safely bring us into a new and forever life with him. 

It Is Only Because of Jesus That We Can Be Resilient

It is only because of Jesus that we can be resilient when facing declining health. He is the One who helps us to trust the Lord’s authority in our lives and wait for him to give us the healing that we desire. That healing may or may not happen in this life, but we know that it will happen in the new heaven and earth to come. Because Jesus not only paid the full cost of forgiveness for all our sins so that we can be fully reconciled to God, he also took up all of our infirmities and bore all of  our diseases, and now those things no longer hold the power over humanity that they once did. Things used to be hopeless when a terminal illness struck, but not anymore. Because one day, Jesus will return to this tired, broken down old world and turn it inside out, making it new from top to bottom. He will do the same thing for each one of us, raising us from the dead to give us new resurrection bodies that will never get sick, grow old or die. But the best thing about life in the new heaven and earth will be Jesus. Now we see him with the eyes of faith, but then we will see him with our own eyes. 

So it all boils down to this question: What do you want? Do you want more of the good things in this life, the things that ill health threatens to take away? Or do you want Jesus? If you lost everything else in life, but you still had Jesus, would you be satisfied? Dear friends, God is trying to tell us that life is like a Great Marshmallow Experiment, and the question of that Experiment is what are you willing to wait for? Because if Jesus is your answer, if Jesus is the marshmallow you are waiting for, then no matter how healthy or sick you are, the best is yet to come. Amen.

(This sermon was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on May 8, 2022. For more information, please go to wglc.org.)

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