By Joel Plunkett
Three years ago I watched my lovely fourteen year-old daughter’s grades fall from A’s to D’s and her hands begin to tremble, causing her handwriting to deteriorate to scribbling. Her once healthy body began to shake to the point that she could not walk down a flight of stairs and eventually could not walk through her own home. After three months of taking her from doctor to doctor, she was diagnosed as having hypothyroidism. Medication was administered, but instead of getting better, her condition progressively worsened. She was hospitalized for nine days early in April of 1985 and nothing else could be discovered. She was released and on April 22, 1985, she suffered a grand-mal seizure which lasted fifteen hours. Only through the power of God, agonizing prayers, several family members working as a team, and the paramedics, did she get to the hospital alive. Several drugs were administered, but only by inducing a phenobarbital coma were the doctors able to control the seizure. She contracted pneumonia while on the respirator. We were never given any hope for her life. Prayers were uttered almost constantly in her behalf. Several brethren gathered at the Broadmoor church building, where I labor, and had a prayer service for her. Several of our friends from other congregations also came to this service. For the power of God and all of the prayers of brethren both public and private, we will be eternally grateful.
Jill spent forty-eight days in Vanderbilt Medical Center, fourteen of which were in the Intensive Care Unit. All kinds of testing were done on her, but it was never determined why she should have had a seizure of such magnitude. Although she had experienced some problems from this illness, she was recovered beyond anything the doctors could hope. We were told this week by an endocrinologist that Jill’s was the most unique case history she had ever read. At this time tests and evaluations are still being conducted on her and she continues to make progress. Jill has graduated from high school this year through Gods help, courage on her part and the help of several people. This trial has been very hard for her, but she has leaned heavily on the Lord for strength.
When brother Willis asked me first of all to preach a sermon and then to write an article, on what we had learned in applying God’s Word to our trial, I really didn’t want to do it. Stirring up the agony, tears, and frustration is something from which we human beings would like to run. The first lesson I have tried to learn is that our Lord was a man of sorrows (Isa. 53), and that is why he understands when we hurt (Heb. 4:15,16). If I am to be like him, my sorrows will lead me to understand when others hurt. I can have compassion because I really know how they feel. Therefore if preaching or writing about this can help someone to learn to lean on Jesus, then it must be done.
What have we learned? Sometimes it is hard to know and be honest with oneself. I know what we should have learned and pray that we have. I tried to learn from my years of preaching to others in their times of trial. It was my time to recall that abrasives irritate and inflict a great deal of pain, but they also polish and refine. Some of the thoughts that were presented to us made us more. aware of truths found in God’s Word. We had to do some serious soul-searching. “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (Jas. 1:2,3). This is joy? “And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Heb. 12:5,6). “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb. 12:11). Our awareness and understanding of God’s love was never more clear. How? He willingly agonized over the suffering of our child. The memory of Abraham willingly offering his son Isaac made us ponder. Christ’s agony in the garden when he prayed, “0 my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” was never more meaningful. The Psalms were discovered anew as we searched them for comfort. We read Psalm 34 over and over. For once in our lives we knew truly how to empathize with those four families who comforted us because they knew what we were feeling. Each family had lost a child during the child’s teenage or young adult life. We learned from and leaned on our physical family and God’s family. “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
Joseph was polished when his brothers sold him, when Potiphar’s wife misrepresented his character and Potiphar placed him in prison for two years. The tragic events helped to develop this young man into a beautiful, sweet, forgiving person. After such cruel treatment, Joseph could say to his brothers, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Gen. 50:20). Joseph was content to view it from God’s vantage point.
I hope in leaning on Jesus that I have learned sickness of this nature happens to people because we are in the world. Jesus said, “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). Tragedies, disappointments, and sickness happen to others in the world, why should it not happen to me? Why do I deserve a wall of protection around me and my family? As a Christian I must learn to take all things and search for the lessons contained within the circumstances. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). How we react to things determines whether they are good or bad. We never want the pain, but the result the pain brings about is for our good. Needless to say this is a learned process and it takes time. If we do not exercise ourselves unto godliness and spiritual maturity, we could become very bitter, filled with self-pity, and blame God.
The lessons studied on prayer helped to remind me that our God is a God who hears prayers (Psa. 65:2). In 1 Peter 3:12 we read, “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers.” Through prayer in the garden, Jesus gained strength to stand before the high priest, Herod and Pilate. I hope my family and I have learned our strength is not in ourselves, but in the One who made us.
Learning to lean on Jesus means that we learn that God will supply our every need (Matt. 7:11). I had to learn that God loved me and was a better provider and Father to me than I was for my children. ” – for I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phil. 4:11). No, we are not satisfied with circumstances but we struggle to wait patiently on the Lord. In that, there is a peace and contentment. While working with an alcoholic two sayings were brought to my attention. “Let go and let God” and “one day at a time.” Biblical truths in short sayings. Oh how agonizingly difficult; but oh how much happier and peaceful our existence when we learn and apply the truths. There is most certainly a “peace that passes understanding” that comes through prayer and turning your anxieties over to the One who controls everything.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We whispered these words in Jill’s ear as she lay unconscious. We also prayed in her ear. There were times when we were so distraught that the only words we could utter were, “Please Lord help us.” How thankful we were that when Mama couldn’t kiss Jill’s hurt away that she had been taught to pray. Her first rational words were, “Mama, Mama, Father, Father, please help me.” She knew there was a power beyond this earth on which to lean. Many people have said since her major ordeal, they didn’t know how as a teenager she was coping with the many frustrations and problems facing her daily. When she gets depressed, she gets down on her knees and prays or she picks up a songbook and goes outside and sings. Her faith in God brings her through the difficult times in her life. We are so thankful in the midst of all the trials that she is “learning to lean on Jesus.” Where else could we take her for comfort?
What we are learning now is that although An has had a very difficult teenage life we are still responsible to lead her in the paths of righteousness. Because she has been so ill does not give us the license in the eyes of the Lord to spoil and pamper her to the point of causing her to develop sinful attitudes. This has been as difficult on our behalf as the illness itself. She is still responsible to God to grow in all the attitudes of Christ.
Learning to lean on Jesus has made my family look to the Father as our Help, Sustainer, Giver of all blessings, and the Hope of eternal life. The Lord has blessed us so bountifully, may we give glory, praise and honor to his holy name.
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 17, pp. 529-530, 549
September 1, 1988