“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me"

This was the second part of the 23rd Psalm that I was to report on to our group. We were studying Keller's, "A shepherd looks at Plsam 23."

As I went through this book, I was impressed with the idea of the sovereignty of God. That is something that is very difficult to accept in my life, particularly when I don't understand what is happening to me. In a Proverbs 3:5 way, I lean on my understanding. So much about disability and the acceptance of disability in oneself or one's family is about accepting the sovereignty of God. As someone who does not face a significant disability myself, or in my children, accepting God's sovereignty is probably easier for me. I do not wake up many evenings with my child with autism. I don't sit at the beside of my daughter with cancer and wonder about our future together. I don't face alzheimers disease in myself or my spouse and worry at the changes life has in store for us. I don't have these experiences at the moment in my life, but it is my prayer for myself as it is for those facing those life experiences now, that they will lean on God and trust him when the reasons cannot be understood because he is indeed sovereign.

In the book, Keller talks about why sheep would be walking through dangerous valleys. Sure, one might get lost and wander into dangerous places, but the point here is that the shepherd is taking the sheep to greener pastures, to a better place for them. So in reality, the shepherd is leading the sheep through the valley of the shadow of death. The shepherd took them there. And death is not imagined, it is there casting a shadow. However, the shadow is cast on the sheep and the shepherd. The shepherd is there with the sheep as he takes them through the valley to the greener pasture. This is an easy principle to describe, but it is perhaps the most difficult of all principles to live, to accept. Paul promises that in all things God works for the good of those who love him(Romans 8:28). That is encouraging, but that doesn't make life any less difficult. It will hopefully strengthen my faith such that I will trust in the Lord with all my heart and not lean on my own understanding. But having faith in difficult situations of life, like the facing of disability is hard.

Like a shepherd taking the sheep to a better place, a greener pasture, I trust God's sovereignty in the most difficult of sitiuations that life throws at me. Joni Eareckson-Tada is the greatest example of this to me, in terms of a real flesh and blood person. After 40+ years of living with quadriplegia, she is diagnosed with cancer. What is her response?
"For years I have hoped that my quadriplegia might encourage people struggling with cancer...now I have a chance to truly empathize and journey alongside, affirming that God's grace is always sufficient for whatever the disease or disability."


On some level, that is what the green pasture looks like when we get to the other side of the valley of the shadow. Through faith in God and her trust in God's sovereignty, Joni is fearless. Of course she fears, she is a human being. However, her response is to trust God because she understands that He is leading her!

The experience of disability is dead in the center of God's sovereignty and the need for faith. I pray for those whose experience with disability challenges your faith. I also pray that each of us will come alongside of those facing the difficult aspects of the experience of disability to reduce the social consequences, to reduce the discrimination, and to become a part of the process of the church (meaning Christians) becoming the green pasture that people desperately need.



Anonymous said...

That is so true. Just today, I have been dealing with questions concerning the sovereignty of God. Your blog post was extremely helpful in gaining godly insight into the question of Why? In my life, the disability of arthritis has affected me and my family. My mother has had rheumatoid arthritis for 18 years; she was diagnosed when I was 3 years old. It has been a struggle to face the reality of a loved one with a disability. It hurts everyday to see her struggling to do daily tasks (laundry, cleaning,…) that I take for granted. I have seen my mother leaning on God through the difficult days of having limited movement in her joints; it does not stop her from doing regular ‘mom stuff.’ The “acceptance of disability… [it is about] accepting the sovereignty of God.” I love how you stated that because my mother has accepted living life with a disability.

The illustration you used about the shepherd leading the sheep (Psalm 23) is a vivid picture of how God is there, as the shepherd, to lead his flock when times are difficult, when disability hits, etc. Yes, Joni Eareckson-Tada is a great example of a lady who uses her quadriplegia to bring glory to God. In my life, my mother is the godly example I see everyday.

Anonymous said...

I really liked your blog and thought it really brought to light that through our trials and tribulations the Lord is right there walking along side us, and guiding us, so that we may get to greener pastures. I always find myself trying to understand everything in trying times and I try to fix things and become upset and discouraged when things don't work out the way "I" think is best I don't think about the fact that God sees the "Big Picture". As it says in Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." Just like the sheep, they trusted the shepherd to lead them, and even though he lead them through shadows they eventually made it to greener pastures.
I had a friend pass away from cancer last January, leaving behind a husband and 3 young boys. She had such a beautiful heart and loved the Lord so much, she was at peace in the end and Trusted in the Lord so much that she was not afraid to go, because she knew that the Lord was with her and where she was going!

Anonymous said...

Some people said that sickness is under a curse.
I found a website- http://preparehisway.com/weekly_blog/view/660/can_christians_suffer_from_the_curse_

I’m disabled but I’m a little confuseed about this. My question is how are the disabled fit in God’s kingdom?

Jeff McNair said...

I don't entirely understand those who would make a distinction between people with and without disabilities in terms of fitting into God's kingdom. I think those who would make such a distinction don't understand what the Bible teaches about disability.
People are people.

Anonymous said...

But What about James 5:13-16?
James 5:13-16(ESV)-
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him(A) sing praise.
14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him,(B) anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And(C) if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
16 Therefore,(D) confess your sins to one another and pray for one another,(E) that you may be healed.(F) The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

Anonymous said...

I Wanted to know about Deuteronomy Chapter 28. Some it it said about God sends curses by sickness if a person disobay God.

Jeff McNair said...

Great questions and comments, Meg.
My first is response is that God is sovereign. That is a hard truth because it calls upon us to trust God which is also hard when we don't understand what is happening to us. Proverbs 3:5 calls upon us to have faith even when we don't understand our life experience.
Of course we can pray for the desires of our hearts including healing. But it is important to remember once again that God is sovereign and may or may not bring healing. He didn't heal Paul, for example and Paul indicates he prayed for healing at least 3 times. I would also suspect that for him to remember 3 times, those were probably times devoted to prayer for his personal healing, not just a passing prayer. God's response was "My grace is sufficient for you" which once again is calling upon Paul, in this case, to trust Him.
Regarding God cursing people, I guess he does based upon the passage you cited. However, as I often share with people, if sin were the cause of disability (that is, God cursing us or our children because of our or their sin) and we had a true understanding of what sin is, then we would expect that all of our children would be disabled. That my children are not disabled is proof to me that sin is not the cause of disability, cursing not the cause, because I am a sinner.

Michelle said...

This blog really stuck a cord in my heart because I have experienced what it means to be led through the valley of the shadow of death as have many others like Joni Eareckson-Tada.

In October of 1978, as a freshman in high school, I discovered a lump in my right armpit that was increasing rather quickly. After a biopsy, it was determined to be a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I underwent a series of tests that confirmed that the mass was isolated but intertwined with the lymph nodes which meant removal of the cancerous sphere was not an option. I underwent chemotherapy that started off with an overnight hospital stay as the massive doses of drugs were distributed intravenously. I was then given an obnoxious amount of oral medications that at one point totaled 21 pills – three times per day and was administered the intravenous medications once weekly for the first month and then once monthly for the duration of two-and-a-half years. I was told I was lucky because this type of cancer had a high success rate and the worst side effect would be a lowered immune system and nausea after the intravenous treatments. The most noticeable side effect would be the loss of my hair. I forgot to mention that I am a female and as a freshman girl who is going through puberty and feeling very awkward and vulnerable in the first place, the loss of my hair was very traumatic.

Even though my experience with religion was sporadic at best, I knew from the beginning of the whole ordeal that I was going to be all right. I was not entirely sure where the unbelievable feeling of peace that wrapped around my whole being like a giant hug was coming from until my mother decided that we had better find a church to attend to ensure, that in the worst case scenario, her daughter’s salvation would be secure. I think that I knew deep down, from the beginning, that it was God that literally carried me through the entire two-and-a-half years of this particular valley of darkness as I rarely became physically ill after being administered the intravenous doses of chemo and only broke down once and cried about the loss of my hair. Throughout the whole experience I knew, without doubt, that God was with me and that I would survive the disease that had inflicted my body. The unrelenting relationship and bond that was formed between me and God is proof of the greener pasture that God promises to those who rely completely on Him. Unfortunately, it is when we are in the midst of a crisis that it is easiest to rely on God. However, it is even more important to rely on God and seek His guidance when life is going well instead of taking Him for granted.

Thankfully, not everyone is required to experience a life threatening disease or lifelong disability in order to have a deep and meaningful relationship with Christ (John 3:16). I believe that God works in mysterious ways and uses some of the situations that we have been through to minister to others and shed light where there is darkness because God truly does turn tragedy into good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Therefore, we should not take for granted the good health and blessings God has bestowed upon. Nor should we see disabilities or disease in a negative manner because through these circumstances often come the greenest pastures and greatest blessings form God.


Earl Perry said...

Joni Eareckson-Tada is truly a remarkable model of faith because she never focuses on exceptions, as most of us do when we do not get what we want. Like the Israelites in the desert, too often christians let God know that they are tired of eating manna and demand meat. They are like teenagers who, when their parents do not purchase a popular clothing item they want so that they can fit in, they slam the door of the house their parents pay the mortgage for, grab the cell phone their parents paid for and text their freinds about how they have the worst parents in the world. (I'm not speaking from experience here...ok, I am). Too often we fail to count the blessings God gives us.
When I contrast that with Joni's attitude (who, by the world's standards, has every right to demand a reason from God for her suffering) with those of fair-weather christians, I am ashamed to when I realize how often I have had complicity in the latter.
Joni embodies a Christlike empathy for people who are suffering, particularly in ways that she had not yet experienced. To her, God's grace is truly sufficient.
Although her muscles atrophy from paraplegia, her faith is a muscle that is exercised daily and has enabled her to stand up ("bear" in I Corinthians 10:13)under a weight that most christians could not even begin to feel. She is a living ideal of the sovereignty of God in a life.

Anonymous said...

God’s sovereignty is something we do not think too much about when things are going great. However, like you said you’re not the one that has to face a disability or have a family member that has a disability or disease. Reading through this post I found myself crying, because of how this post applies to what my family and I are going through. My mother has a liver disease she has had it for many years but recently it took a bad turn for the worse and she now needs a new liver. Every weekend I go home and see her, sometimes she is doing okay and other times she has horrible cramps or is too weak to do anything. Last weekend she was weak and just laid on the couch and I just lay by her and held her hand. I questioned why? My mom is amazing she and my dad raised 4 children into Christian adults and is still raising the last 2 (the youngest being 12). But what is amazing to me and what I need to remember is how my family especially my mom is trusting in God, even though none of us know why my mom has this disease we have faith in God. He is our rock; our lives are in his hands… He is sovereign. I’m sure we all have our times when we yell at God and pray that she is healed or gets a liver soon or pray with all our hearts that we don’t lose her. But we are trusting in Him.. God: amazing, omniscient, never changing, loving, sovereign, (and countless of other adjectives) One and only God. This is hard for my mom and family and so I could see how people with disabilities may have challenges with their faith and I pray for them and their families. So thank you Dr. McNair for blogging about this helping me to remember how great and sovereign God is and to make me think of how what my family is going through and how it can be applied to how people with disabilities feel along with how their families feel.

Anonymous said...

I do agree with you to an extent. I am not a person of strong of faith. I have always been someone who does not believe in something I cannot touch or see. I knwo that the point of faith is believing in something so powerful, but I still cannot grasp its entirety. I find it hard to adjust to the fact that we are all subjet to God's hand and he has control over the envents in our lives. This is something that does not sit well with me. I would liek to think that I am in control of my own destiny, but when you discuss the topic of valley of the shadow of death I begin to wonder if I am really in control? I do not have fmaily memebrs who are realigious or hold a strong faith and at times it seems hard to follow the word of the Lord due to fear of judgment. If God is truly holding our hands and leading us down paths he knows only we can handle why does he allow for someone's daughter to pass at such a young age? Why does he allow for someone to suffer through such hard ships? Does he understand the fears and strengths of our hearts? This is something I may never grasp until I fully give myself to the Lord.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading your posts! I seem to relate so well to the topic which you discussed about God's soverinty. Last November my own brother- in- law passed away from cancer. He was the picture of health and calmness. He was the kind of person that did not let life get him down. Even when the doctor told him that he was diagnosed with cancer in it's final stages, he thought of his childeren and my sister and tried to beat it. He fought for life untill the very end but we also knew that he had a strong faith in God, and knew that God had a plan for him. In the difficult days leading up to his death, different family members struggled to understand God's plan. We all had a hard time some days understanding the purpose of this mess. When we looked to my brother-in-law we just realized that his three boys were so lucky to have him, even though their time together was cut short. We thanked God for the opportunity to know Terry and that he showed my sister what a true and loving husband was. When one can see all of the good in a situation, it makes the bad make more sense. Whether it is disability or sickness that enter our lives, if we lean on faith in God, we will see the light at the end of the tunel.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your blog and agree. I think for those of us that do not face disabilities, or even other hardships, it is easier for us to accept the sovereignty of God. I think one of the hardest things individuals with disabilities and there families have to do is to accept God’s work. Most will blame themselves or become angry with God demanding answers. Although it may be difficult to understand why God would allow someone to be born with or develop a disability, we must trust in the Lord and realize that it is his will and part of his greater purpose. Because we do not know his plans, we should not question his work. We must come to the understanding that God has a purpose for all things. I think that the analogy of walking through the valley of the shadow of death is correct. I think the shadow is our earthly life. Life is filled with obstacles, temptations and doubt. However, if we can trust in God, our faith will lead us into greener pastures, meaning an eternity with our Savior. I think the same goes for disabilities. The disability represents the shadow, and acceptance and trust in God is the greener pastures. Once the individual with a disability and their families are able to accept the disability and put their faith in God, they can live out God’s greater purpose and inspire those around them.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. I think the example of the shepard leading the goat into greener pastures is one of the best examples of letting God lead your life into "greener pastures." Trust in him and come to him with your challenges, tragedies, struggles, etc, for he will lead you to "greener pastures" whatever that may be. We may not know or understand why this challenge has happened to us, but it is all in God's plan.

What I also wanted to comment on was, how you mentioned, it's easy for you (personally) to believe in the the sovereignty of God because you do not have any children with disabilities, or have ill relatives, or deal with personal health issues etc, so it is most certainly easy for you (or others like you) to believe. It is tremendously harder for individuals who personally struggle or are related to someone who struggles with life's challenges (i.e. sickness, disabilities, handicaps, financial struggle, lost of a loved one, etc) to believe in the sovereignty of God.
That's why I think what you, your wife, and the members of your church are doing is such a wonderful thing. Not only for those who have disabilites, but for the families as well. It is important that the churches seek out and let their community know that they in fact can believe in the sovereignty of God and explain to them why (hope that makes sense).

The last thing I wanted to comment on was Joni Eareckson-Tada. She is absolutely amazing. I have watched a couple of her video's (I think they were called Joni and friends?) in one of my classes at CBU and I remember feeling so inspired. She, the people she works with, and the people she meets around the world are indeed incredible. They not only inspire people with disabilites and families who have children with disabilities; they inspire people who don't face those challenges to become better people as well as better christians.
I was unaware that she was diagnosed with cancer. And again she inspired me with her response to the diagnosis, for she made me tear up at her response. Her positive will and belief in the sovereignty of God pushes her through each day. My heart goes out to her and her family. I will keep her in my prayers. God Bless her!

Anonymous said...

What an awesome message. Thank you so much for opening my eyes to this. I have always had a hard time understanding the reason why God would allow someone to live with a disability, and I have just recently recieved a new family memeber with a disability. So in conjuction with this blog, the class I am currently taking and seeing this disability in person is such an amazing blessing from God. I have a new found love for people with disabilities and a new found appreciation for what they can offer to me, and what I can potentially offer to them. God is so amazing in the way he delivers messages to us, it makes it so hard to understand His love sometimes. I am going into the education field, and before if anyone every asked me if I would work in special education I would have told them that I don't think I could do it, or It takes a special person to do that. Now I think it is quickly becoming a passion of mine to get involved with children with disabilities. I really feel God has put it on my heart. Thank you so much for your sharing of Gods words especially with opening the eyes of how he feels about persons with disabilities.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this post because it gave me a better understanding of Psalm 23 and how it’s application can be so versatile yet so poignant. Personally I have not been met with any great hardships in my life so being able to ministry without that full understanding of what that person is going through can be difficult. I have currently been ministering to a family member who is going through a divorce and it is hard because of the great relationship that me and my wife have been blessed wife. Ministering to a person with disabilities may be just as difficult but I know regardless of what happens the Lord is with us we will prevail and he will speak through me. Also reading Joni Eareckson-Tada response to the news of her cancer took my breath away. It is not often when you see someone so selfless and a true beacon of the Lord. Recently I have been praying about going into special education and only a few months ago it was something that I would have never thought of. But over the last few months a have met so many great people such as yourself that have really touched my heart. I feel that further I begin to research this idea more and more the Lord tugs on my heart. Thank you for being such a positive influence on all of the students you have taught and showing them (including myself) what the true perception of disabilities are within the community and especially the church.

Anonymous said...

My family has been through some deep valley's in the last few years. I will go through this quickly to get to my point. I have lost both of my remaining grandparents and my father. My husband was paralyzed in an accident and my sister is now dependent on dialysis. Most difficult of all was the loss of my husband's two young cousins (ages 4 and 22 months) in a house fire. All of this has given me a unique perspective on valley's.

I remember wanting to know the usual "Why?". Someone simply replied "Why not?". She was right, once I was able to put this into perspective, I felt like I could breathe again.

I have learned that God does not view us based on our physical abilities. I can promise that if you place your situation on God's hands, he will guide you through. He will also help you flourish. God will meet you right where you are.

Use your ecxperience to help and witness to others. WHen you see God move in others, it's awe inspiring. However, you have to give it to God and recognize his sovereignty. You have to allow him to work.