There is a twelve year old young man of faith whose story I have been following. Since age nine Mark (not his real name) has been battling a fierce and horrifying giant, a cancer called neuroblastoma. His suffering has been, continues to be, beyond my comprehension. Mark has had a second relapse. On a website his mother keeps us informed of Mark’s fight against this beast. Often his mother’s words, and those precious times Mark writes his own post, his own words, describe a faith beyond this young man’s years. In one recent post his mother wrote, “Our Lord knows Mark is suffering; He holds every tear we cry. My son never asked why, why could God allow his cancer to come back. With unshakable faith, my son instead has held on tightly to his Lord through indescribable heartache. You see, he knows this world isn’t perfect. He knows even believers die from cancer. He knows even little boys who delight in the Lord relapse with neuroblastoma. He also knows that the glory to come far outweighs the horrors of this disease. It’s reign of terror will come to an abrupt halt when it meets Ethan’s Lord Almighty. My son is confident of that truth and so has no reason to ask why. Instead, he is determined to glorify Christ through every tear and every step taken along this treacherous road.”
Mark and his family are confident of and sustained by the love of God in Jesus Christ. Like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as a disciple of Christ twelve year old Mark knows that there is nothing in life of which he need ever be afraid, even death. Mark knows that nothing, even the beast neuroblastoma, separates the disciple of Jesus Christ from the love of God.
The psalmist found sustaining confidence being in the house of God, in God’s very presence. “But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God” (Psalm 52:8). There is nothing in life of which the disciples of Christ need ever be afraid for we are in the house of God. We are ever in God’s presence. The apostle Paul describes Christians as God’s people who in Jesus Christ are the house of God. God’s house, not a house, a temple, of mortar and brick, but a house built with living stones. “Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:20-22).
In Christ Jesus Christians, individually and collectively, are the house of God. They are in the house of God, in his presence, safe and secure. The psalmist describes his confidence in God as his being like an olive tree flourishing. In God’s presence the tree, the psalmist, the disciple of Christ, is strong and persevering. He is fruitful in faith, in hope, in love, in peace, and in holiness. He is not plucked up or destroyed. In the presence of God, dwelling in God, God dwelling in the disciple, he is like a flourishing tree “which out of the rock draws oil, and amid the drought still lives and grows” (C. H. Spurgeon). “I am the vine,” Jesus said, “you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit” (John 15:5).
There is nothing in life of which the disciples of Christ need ever be afraid because of what God has done. “I will praise you forever for what you have done” (Psalm 52:9). The psalmist certainly remembered the story he heard all of his life, how God delivered the Israelites out of Egypt, the Red Sea, Sinai, the Promised Land. When I look at what God has done I remember all he has done in Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 1:3ff; 2:1ff). In the midst of difficult times the follower of Jesus Christ finds strength in giving thanks to God, not for the difficulties, but for God, for what he has done in and through Jesus Christ.
When Mark learned of his second relapse he was devastated. As he wept his mother shared with him what a friend had shared with her. “You know Mark, when we are in our darkest times, it really does help if we just worship God. Try talking to Him and praising Him, even though your heart is breaking.”
Not only during the dark times, but in the midst of good times give thanks. Give thanks not as much for health and provision, though yes give thanks for these. Rather especially give thanks for what God has done in and through Jesus Christ and for all the rich spiritual blessings we have in Christ. C. H. Spurgeon, in commenting on Psalm 52, writes, “While others boast in their riches I will boast in my God; and when their glorying is silenced for ever in the tomb, my song shall continue to proclaim the lovingkindness of Jehovah.” As God’s love is everlasting, so is to be our thanksgiving and praise.
Mark’s mother wrote of Mark’s hope in Jesus Christ. Mark “also knows that the glory to come far outweighs the horrors of this disease.” There is nothing in life of which the disciples of Christ need ever be afraid because of Him in whom we hope. “In your name I will hope, for your name is good” (Psalm 52:9). The esv translates this portion of the verse, “I will wait for your name, for it is good.” The certainty of hope in God through Jesus Christ brings a calmness to the heart, the patience to be still while waiting for God. This calmness of hope is seen in a twelve year old cancer patient’s faith, in Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he was imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps, and in the lives of martyrs in the early church and throughout the centuries. It is the hope which comes from the faithfulness of God. This hope in Jesus Christ is real. It is not an escape from life. Rather it is the source of strength, of perseverance, of being still before God. Whether life is blessed with blessings of this life or enemies surround and oppress us, God’s name, the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, is good. He is good, holy, and righteous. The love of God is unfailing. He will vindicate us. Our hope in Christ is true and sure. In faith we wait. We are able to be still. Hope calms our hearts.
The apostle Paul, in prison and knowing his life was nearing its end, wrote, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). In Romans 8:15 he wrote, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”
“Men must not too much fluster us; our strength is to sit still. Let the mighty ones boast, we will wait on the Lord; and if their haste brings them present honour, our patience will have its turn by-and-by, and bring us the honour which excelleth” (C. H. Spurgeon). My faith tells me there is nothing in life of which I need ever be afraid. Bonhoeffer and Mark instruct me by the faith seen in their lives. There is nothing in life of which I need ever be afraid. Lord when the tests come, and they will, help me not to be afraid. Help me to be still and wait for you. If there is to be relief in this life I will be grateful. If not, help me to be still and wait for the honor which excels, the honor of being glorified with Christ when he comes in the fulness of his kingdom.