An aha moment, a revelation, an epiphany, call it what you will, I had one today. It began with a rather mundane, and somewhat discouraging event, one that would not normally be something worth writing about. But since it concluded in an encouraging perspective on the Christian’s never-ending battle with sin, it merits sharing.
This morning, I decided today was the day to test my ankle. Today marks six weeks since ankle surgery, and I’m anxious to get it rehabilitated. My hope was that the ankle is healed enough to go beyond the gentle stretching, massage, and ice therapy I’ve been doing for several weeks and might be ready for a little more strenuous exercise in a controlled situation. So I got on my rowing machine and gave the ankle a gentle three-minute workout. Getting off the machine, I thought, “Wow, three whole minutes. Even if the ankle tolerates this well, (the next twenty-four hours will tell!) it’s going to take a while to build back up to my normal rowing time. And even longer to rebuild strength and flexibility in the ankle. Sigh. Rebuilding again.” You see, this is the eighth surgery on this ankle, the eighth time I’ve started over, the eighth season of rebuilding. It seems as soon as the ankle is pain-free, strong enough for moderate activity, and not interfering with daily life, something goes wrong and I’m back in surgery and starting over. Discouragement was lurking in my thoughts. It was time for some truth-telling here. Time to remind myself of what I know, of the truth that encourages and keeps me persevering and hopeful during times of rebuilding. Time to dwell on truth that evokes the gratefulness that will banish discouragement and quash self-pity.
So I reviewed the facts in my mind. Thirty years ago, prosthetic ankle joints didn’t even exist, and I am so thankful to have been accepted into the clinical trial that provided mine thirteen years ago. Without it, I would barely be able to walk by now. The Lord has blessed me with an incredible pioneering surgeon who is highly skilled, internationally acclaimed, and really cares about his patients. My husband has become a selfless pro at caring for me through surgeries and sometimes long periods of inability to walk during recovery. He never complains. Our family has been supportive and helpful through round after round of incapacitated Mom, and always with cheerfulness. The body of Christ has come alongside us and helped in a myriad of ways by praying, bringing meals, cleaning, making the six-hour post-op trips to Dallas with me, and providing companionship during long weeks of restricted mobility. I know each surgery is correcting a problem, and I’ll be better in the long run. The downtime and rehabilitation is worth the reward of a season of improved function and reduced pain. That’s a mountain of blessing to be grateful for, and a strong antidote to discouragement.
As I countered discouragement with truth this morning, and adjusted my attitude toward rebuilding the ankle, the Aha! struck. I realized that this process of rebuilding an ankle is not unlike the spiritual reconstruction God does in His children. Jeremiah 31:28 describes the tearing down and rebuilding of Israel, “As I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to overthrow, to destroy and to bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the LORD. Israel’s gracious God was speaking of wounding to heal, of tearing down to rebuild something better. God had broken down the cities of His people, Israel, due to their sin. He had plucked them up and sent them into captivity in Babylon. Physical disaster had followed their sinful spiritual disaster. Pain and discouragement had been Israel’s familiar companions in Babylon. But then God spoke of bringing them back to their land, of healing their wounds, restoring their spiritual health, rebuilding their nation, and renewing their hope and their joy. Ultimately this prophecy would find its complete fulfillment in the New Covenant, inaugurated by their long-awaited Messiah, Jesus Christ. But for a time, Israel had been brought to repentance. The nation was ready to be rebuilt, replanted, and restored. And God would send the prophet Nehemiah to lead the rebuilding and to speak truth into their discouragement during the arduous task.
Our gracious heavenly Father not only performs spiritual surgery on an entire nation, He is Jehovah Rapha, The LORD Who Heals each one of His children of our sinfulness. The cutting out process is undoubtedly uncomfortable, but when we submit ourselves to the loving ministrations of the Great Physician, we can be confident that His work of reconstruction will yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11). I had the opportunity to undergo such spiritual surgery a few months ago. The problem was a past pattern of sin that the Lord had dealt with years ago: worship of the opinions of man. I was so thankful He had freed me from this bondage, and for many years it wasn’t a problem, but now it was back. How appalling to see it resurface! I was so dismayed and discouraged, “Lord, here I am again, dealing with the same old sin that I thought was gone. I’m so sorry. Whatever will You do with me? I feel like a hopeless case.” It was time for some truth-telling, and a review of God’s Word. Our tender healer Father doesn’t see one of His children as a hopeless case, because He has the power to change us, to sanctify us. Sanctification means to be set apart from the world, reserved for God’s purposes, and in order to do that, the Lord must rebuild us. It is a process of tearing down our old thinking and behavior patterns, constructing new thinking and a new way of living, and letting us concentrate on that for a season. Later, there will be other issues in our lives that God will address as He sanctifies us, and we will go through the cycle again. Discipline, spiritual surgery, is a normal, expected, and good thing in the life of a Christian. Proverbs 3:11-12 tells us that discipline, or chastening, by the Lord proves His love and acceptance of us as His child, for He disciplines us as a father disciplines a child he delights in. We also learn from these verses how we are to respond to His chastening. We are not to rebel against God by rejecting, despising, or refusing His discipline. Nor are we to respond with the opposite extreme of sickening dread, loathing, or grief. In Hebrews 12:5-6, the author quotes Proverbs 3:11-12, and describes this response as “losing heart.” He goes on to explain that every true child of God receives His discipline, and we should submit to it because it is for our good, that we may share in God’s holiness. Though it seems painful at the time, God’s discipline produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:5-13). So we are not to be discouraged when we feel like we’re back to a spiritual square one. Sanctification involves tearing down in order to rebuild, and it’s a welcome process, a blessing in the life of a Christian. Chastening reminds me that I am truly the daughter of God, a sister of Christ, and dearly loved. It reminds me that my Father is working to develop holiness, righteousness, and peace in me. That, too, is a mountain of blessing to be grateful for, and a strong antidote to discouragement.