Facing Affliction With the Faith of a Mustard Seed
- Andrea Newitt The Old Schoolhouse Magazine
- 2011 12 Dec
On occasion, our magazine features articles from families who homeschool through especially trying circumstances. These stories touch our hearts and bring tears to our eyes as we read of homeschoolers who face hardship, sometimes hardship upon hardship, yet find strength in the Lord and His Mighty Power in the midst of their struggles. Their tales of woe are filled with disaster—death, disease, and all kinds of distress—but they are also filled with blessing as those fellow homeschoolers “go from strength to strength” (Psalm 84:7), relying on God to meet their needs at the present moment.
Then my moment came.
The details of my particular affliction aren’t significant. Scripture assures us that we serve a God of mercy and grace, “the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4) Years ago, I heard Andy Stanley describe grace as “added strength” and mercy as “a lightened load.” Edith Schaeffer shares similar thoughts in her book Affliction as she tells us that each of us has a unique role to play in the ongoing battle between Satan and God, for no two people in all of history have experienced the exact same set of circumstances. She encourages us to love and trust God regardless of our circumstances, whether He removes our affliction or proclaims as He did to Paul, “My grace is sufficient.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) Come and hear these other encouraging words that helped me bear my burden as I determined to step out in faith on the path marked out before me, a journey into the realm of illness, which I decidedly did not want to take.
When facing trying times, I think of Aaron and Hur, who held up the hands of Moses while the Israelites battled their enemy (see Exodus 17). I knew I would need support outside of my family in the days to come and called on five close friends to hold me up in prayer. That small, inner circle of support would grow only slightly in the weeks and months ahead.
When I received my initial diagnosis, I was away from my family at a homeschool conference, tending the TOS booth with Deborah Wuehler, her dear daughter Hannah, and our good friend Rebecca. My doctor told me on the phone, “Now, you are going to want to worry, but I don’t want you to worry.” I took those words as my marching orders for that weekend and beyond, as if they came straight from the mouth of God, Who wants us to be anxious for nothing, to live by faith and not by fear.
Todd Wilson’s Familyman Ministries booth was right next to ours; I had the privilege to meet him and sit in on many of his sessions that weekend. Those sessions helped prepare me for the upcoming school year that would have to accommodate many medical appointments. Hearing truth wrapped in humor from a homeschooling dad and spending that first part of my journey laughing with good friends at my side helped me to venture out in faith with an uplifted spirit.
In my Charles Spurgeon devotional, Strengthen My Spirit, the entry from the day before I received that call from my doctor was titled “Growing in Grace.” Spurgeon wrote:
There are some of your graces that would never be discovered if it were not for your trials. Do you not know that your faith never looks so grand in summer as it does in winter?. . . Afflictions are often the black foils in which God sets the jewels of His children’s graces to make them shine better. . . . God often takes away our comforts and our privileges in order to make us better Christians.
I had assigned some Christian books as summer reading for my two older children and read a couple of the books for my own benefit as well. In The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, the elder demon Screwtape tells his nephew Wormwood that “the humans live in time but our Enemy [God] destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.” Make the humans “live in the Future,” Screwtape counsels Wormwood; “thought about the Future inflames hope and fear. . . . The Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity.”
In Hannah Hurnard’s Hinds’ Feet on High Places, the main character, Much-Afraid, flees from her “Fearing relatives” in the Valley of Humiliation with her companions Suffering and Sorrow and seeks to exchange her crippled feet for hinds’ feet so that she might leap on the mountains in service to the Chief Shepherd. Her Lord’s last lesson is this: “Accept and bear and obey the Law of Love, and nothing will be able to cripple your hinds’ feet or to separate you from Me.”
One sure way to stay close to our infinite and personal God is to spend time in His Word. That bond grows even stronger for me when a particular verse is confirmed from more than one source. For my quiet time, I read some of the New Testament letters. While I was reading through 1 Peter, Donna Rees sent me an email, reminding me she was praying for my family and me every day. Her prayer journal entry that day “just happened” to be based on 1 Peter 5:6–11. “I cling to those promises,” she wrote, “and I know you do too. Be encouraged, precious Andrea: God will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
Within a week, though, I was in a dry place in my walk with God, a place where even Scripture and prayer didn’t move me. These times are often called “the dark night of the soul” or a “desert experience.” I recognized I was in the wilderness on Saturday night, only to wake up Sunday morning to a Day of Discovery conversation between host Mart De Haan and guest Michael Card in the Judean desert, “Living in the Wilderness of Life” (www.dod.org/Products/DOD2197.aspx). Michael Card observed that we often want to cut short our time in the wilderness, but we need to stay there to learn the lessons that God has for us. Our pastor’s message at church that morning focused on God’s power and strength in our lives, demonstrated by His covenant with Abraham as He called him out of Ur, into the wilderness, and to the Promised Land. The service featured special music: “El Shaddai,” a song written by Michael Card.
Strength often came to me through music, not only in those first few weeks, but also in my ongoing journey through affliction. As I rode my bicycle for exercise in the days before my treatment began, I would sing praise and worship songs along the way, sometimes with tears. Those 8-mile rides on the trail would soon shift to 2-mile walks around the park; still, I would use that time to offer up a sacrifice of praise. Lincoln Brewster’s “Son of God,” which begins, “Hold my hand and walk with me,” was one of many songs that strengthened my heavy heart. I sang the chorus again and again:
My Savior, Glorious One
My Redeemer, living in my heart
Now and forever, Your kingdom come
Jesus, Son of God
Jesus, Son of God
One morning, Deborah passed along an urgent prayer request she had received, providing me with an opportunity to lift up the needs of someone else. Two songs came to mind as I prepared to pray, and I sang them aloud as I rode to my doctor appointment: “Resound in Praise,” by Ron Kenoly, with the chorus:
Let the sanctuary
Be filled with Your glory
We lift our voices up in praise
Let the sanctuary
Be filled with Your glory
Each instrument resound in praise
and Chris Falson’s "I See the Lord,” based on Isaiah 6:1–3:
I see the Lord seated on the throne, exalted
And the train of His robe
Fills the temple with glory
And the whole earth is filled
And the whole earth is filled
And the whole earth is filled
With His glory
Holy, holy, holy, holy
Holy is the Lord
A few days after sharing that prayer time with Deborah, I received a lovely bouquet of flowers in a teacup from the Wuehler family. On the card, Deborah wrote: “As I have been praying for you, I keep having that song in my mind, ‘the whole earth is filled with His glory.’ That must mean you are, too!”
Without faith, I could not be filled with His glory. But I only needed the faith of a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds. When the disciples asked why they were unable to cast a demon out of a boy, Jesus answered: “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” (Matthew 17:20) Last year, I learned from Focus on the Family’s DVD series Faith Lessons that Jesus was likely pointing to the Herodian, a mountain literally moved by Herod (read more at www.followtherabbi.com/Brix?pageID=1699). Teacher Ray Vander Laan pointed out that Herod was a builder, but we remember very little about him other than he was a baby killer, because Herod lived for Herod. By contrast, Jesus, a humble carpenter, changed the world because He lived for God.
Whenever I looked at my affliction from my own earthly perspective, I wanted to cry; I wanted to quit; I wanted to cry out, “I don’t want to do this!” As the weeks unfolded, that would only occasionally be my response. Instead, I chose to live with an eternal perspective, to love and trust God whether he lightened my load or gave me added strength. I knew He was with me every step of the way, holding my hand, even though I could not physically feel His hand, see His face, or hear His voice. I also knew that one day, with the new heaven and the new earth, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
That teeny tiny mustard seed faith, simply believing God in the present moment, where “time touches eternity,” gave me strength and courage for the dreaded journey ahead. It grew into certainty that the Lord would somehow bring good out of this trial, that He would comfort and carry me through my affliction, through any pain and discomfort—and there were a few times when I suffered and endured unexpected, intense pain.
May the Lord comfort and strengthen you this day and every day regardless of the circumstances you face.
A Friend in Times of Trouble
The Bible describes two types of friends who stand in stark contrast to one another: Job’s “comforters” and King Saul’s son Jonathan, whom David loved as a brother. The finest moments for Job’s three friends were the seven days and nights they sat in silence with their friend, for when they finally did speak, their advice angered God. He even required Job to pray for them because they had “not spoken of Me the thing that is right.” (Job 42:7) Jonathan, however, went to David in the wilderness and helped him find strength in God (1 Samuel 23:16).
Many times, when we have a friend who is facing affliction, we want to do something, anything, to help, but we are at a loss of just what to say or do. We often overlook the opportunity to simply say “I am sorry” and lift our friend up in prayer to the God of all comfort.
Rest and peace lie in the Lord’s hands. He can best direct our efforts to minister to a hurting friend and help us avoid unintentionally adding to their burden through the foolish things we might say or do. Wise friends will carefully consider how to build up troubled friends and encourage them to be strong in the Lord and lean on His everlasting arms.
Copyright, 2011. Used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse®Magazine, Fall 2011. Visit The Old Schoolhouse® at www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com to view a full-length sample copy of the magazine especially for homeschoolers. Click the graphic of the moving computer monitor on the left. Email the Publisher at [email protected].