“Nothing has changed.”
I wasn’t so sure. It seemed to me that everything had changed. With four words – “your cancer is malignant” – his parents would lose their oldest son, his wife would become a widow, his four children, way too young to lose a father, would, indeed, lose their father, and what about me? Not that it’s all about me, but I would lose a dear friend in just a little more than a year. The cancer was inoperable and there were no viable treatments. But those were his first words to me. He said them about twenty-five minutes after he was given his diagnosis and prognosis. “Nothing has changed.”
This is what he meant. The hour before he was given his dire and accurate prognosis, he was certain that Jesus was the reigning King, his Kingdom was initiated with power at his resurrection and ascension, his love was established beyond any doubt when he died for those who held him in contempt, like ourselves, in his death we have forgiveness of sins, which was the first of an explosion of benefits and promises fulfilled, there is nothing that can separate us from his love, and his reign is guaranteed to prosper. On a more personal note, it also meant that my friend’s loving Father would care for his wife and children with a unique affection. These are a few things he crammed into “nothing has changed.”
All this was true pre-diagnosis; it was true post-diagnosis. Yet, everything had changed. There were decisions about joining an experimental treatment group, everyday would have plenty of tears and many goodbyes, there were gravesites to select, and he would have to comfort many friends who were already mourning. But he was certain that “Jesus Christ was the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
Imagine what life would be like if we could quickly say that nothing has changed when we encounter snags, inconveniences and down-right tragedies. Unshakable. Utterly unshakable. Barely a bump on the road. Imagine life without the angry outbursts and swoons of despair or the long gaps of faithlessness before we turn back to Jesus. Well, we can both imagine and aspire to these things. Welcome to the age of the Spirit when what was previously impossible becomes normal.
His words of faith didn’t appear out of nowhere. There is always a backstory when we actually see the Spirit on the move. Here is some of it. He read the Psalms everyday. In the twenty-five years that I knew him he probably never missed a day. Of course, he read lots of other passages. I think he was a read-the-Bible-through-in-a-year guy. But his diet of the Psalms is what especially inspired me. God has determined that much of the growth that his people experience comes from the gradual accumulation of hearing or reading the truth, believing it and living it. Dramatic insights are great when they come, but they usually add just a hint of color to the gradual and inexorable process of growing in Jesus.
I read Psalm 105 today. I needed my own version of “nothing has changed”. The Psalm is like many others. I’ve never heard anyone say that it was his or her favorite Psalm. It just happened to be the next on the schedule.
Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.
The psalmist leads us in a traditional introduction, but already everything has changed. I am taken up out of my many cares and my heart is focused on things that are even bigger and more important. Then the psalm recounts Old Testament history, which is the history of God. He directs history and history reveals him and his endless acts of love and faithfulness.
One of the observations that experts have made about the increase in depression is that it has coincided with an era in which there is nothing bigger than us and our own desires. The family is broken or dispersed, there is no security in our jobs, and there is no cause celebre. We are stuck, therefore, with the meager self, and depression is sure to follow. Psalm 105, in contrast, gives us exactly what we need. It brings us into a bigger story and never lets us back down. How pleasant it is to sit on a perch overlooking the universe and see the plans of God. Somehow, we have been joined to Christ in a way that we are involved with a Kingdom that is eternal. Then, we get off our temporary resting place and look to be part of this larger agenda. Notice how the entire Psalm becomes our rationale for simple, daily obedience.
[God did these things] that they might keep his precepts and observe his laws. Praise the LORD (Psalm 105:45)
So that’s how my friend did it. He did some big things in his life, at least I thought they were big, but his interests were not in resumes but in humble obedience to the King who loved him. The Kingdom advances in ways that can seem mild-mannered.
It has been more than three years since his death, and I am still trying to catch up to him. A Psalm a day just might do it.
I went to his grave today.
J. Alan Groves
December 17, 1952 – February 5, 2007
In Christ death is swallowed up in victory