by Jill St. John
It’s lying open on the hounds-tooth ottoman in our bedroom. I walk by It many times each day, knowing what It says, letting It breathe into my spirit and being. And still I struggle.
There is so much death, dying, sickness, and heartache in our world. Not just in the world out there, it is in our churches, schools, neighborhoods, families, and our homes. Loss has come near in probably each and every one of our lives in some way over the last two years. We are--I am--becoming grief-fatigued.
It is God’s Word, and It lies open on my ottoman to Psalm 91. It speaks, offering light in the darkness and hope in the heartache. Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God, and I trust Him. Psalm 91:1-2 NLT
I know it is true. I trust Him, and I often breathe a prayer: Help me trust You, God. Help me rest in You. The last verses of Psalm 91 stir up my need for a different dictionary. I will rescue…protect…answer…be with…honor… I will reward them with a long life… (from Psalm 91:14-16 NLT).
Long means--sorry to state the obvious--not short. Like Twizzlers Rope Licorice vs. Nibs. Like the Niesen Railway in Switzerland--the longest stairway in the world at 11,674 steps--vs. the five steps up to the main level of our home from our living room. My definition of a long life, not that we are ever ready to say goodbye to a loved one, means eighty-something years and beyond. In light of recent losses in our church family and in our personal family, according to my dictionary, there have been some people taken way before they lived a long life.
What do we do when our definitions do not match God’s? When God uses His dictionary, perhaps He is inviting us to learn more about His higher ways and thoughts (Isaiah 55:9). While bringing tremendous comfort, Psalm 91 has also been that kind of invitation to me. It has caused deep digging, resulting in redefining and gaining better understanding of the abstract concept of eternal perspective. To us humans, death means the end. It is the end of so much. When someone we love dies, it is the end of the precious presence of that person. No more hugs or hearing their voice in conversation; no more of their bright ideas or their jokes that caused a chuckle with an eye-roll; no more of their wisdom or their help; no more of the sound of their cadence or their laugh. It seems very much like the end of their life. And yet, it is not. This is somewhat of a wrestling match between earthly reality and the reality of eternal life. Though we have no more of that person here with us, believers in Jesus who are absent from their body are very much present, whole, and living out long life, in the presence of our loving Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).
Recently, I journaled to the Lord about Psalm 91: Help me trust Your “long” even when it is not mine. I know that You don’t see our death on earth as the ending of life–our passing from here means being with You face to face, Jesus. That is not the end; it is the beginning.
Divine definitions give divine perspective, which can refresh and bring tremendous comfort to our grief-fatigued souls. The hallmark verse that has been a lamp and light for me through four diagnoses and battles with cancer, losing my father and younger brother, and now *walking with my mom through late-stage metastatic breast cancer invites us to His higher way: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 NIV. I would define power as strength to take the next step and do the next thing. What I sense God revealing from His dictionary is more like power being the divine I AM flowing through us human Christ-followers as we yield to His Holy Spirit in us. No human power or strength is sufficient. Only He can fill us with joy and peace as we struggle and mourn. Only He can lift our gaze over the muck and mire to the glory of what will be but is not yet.
May He indeed be the One Who defines not just words, but our lives as we surrender to Him. My Bible will continue to lie open on the ottoman to Psalm 91, acting as a reminder of the eternal perspective that God is teaching me. He promises long life according to His dictionary, and what other kind would I want?
(*Mom has now gone to Heaven. My Bible is still open to Psalm 91, and God continues to give strength and peace.)
Jill St. John, once a high school English teacher, is an ordained minister in the Assemblies of God. She serves as Co-Pastor alongside her husband, Jason. For the last 23 years, they have served at Evangel Church in Kansas City--6 years as youth pastors, and 17 years as lead pastors. Jill has a passion for Jesus and a zeal for teaching God’s Word, helping others walk in God’s love and purpose. As a 4-time cancer survivor, she knows the goodness of God through the highs and lows of life and ministry. Jill is an authentic, enthusiastic messenger of God’s joy and hope. Teaching, cooking, laughing, and hanging out with her husband and two children are the delights of her life!
by Pam Morton
Over New Year's 2021, John and I watched a marathon of the show, "Alone." The producer distributes ten people throughout Vancouver Island with the goal of surviving in the vast Canadian wilderness for as long as they can...alone. Get it? The last person remaining wins a large sum of money and innumerable parasites.
It's fascinating to see different personalities, alone and under stress, try to work out the best way to survive. Some immediately go to work and create a home of sorts, while others get by with the bare minimum. As the days pass and hunger increases, reasons to quit or tap out become more frequent. "This is not what I signed up for," said the guy chased by a bear. "BLEEP! BLEEP! BLEEP!" said the electrician who can't hack his way through the brush. "I can't survive on one field mouse a day!" exclaimed a Baptist pastor. "I love being with Mother Earth, but my kids need me," said the part-hippie, part-herbalist. "Uh...I need help. I've had an axe accident," said the firefighter. "I never realized how hard it would be to be alone," said ALL of them.
The reasons mounted, until one by one, nine contestants tapped out. They were done.
Wilderness, 9; Humans, 0.
I sit smugly with my iced Diet Coke while yelling at the TV: "It was only ONE bear!” … “C'mon! You've got enough slugs there to last you for at least a week!” … “Can't you Superglue that cut?!”
In the same breath, I review my 2022 calendar and begin to list all the reasons that I may tap out before I even get started. I don't even know what goals to put on paper.
"Um...2021...Need I say more?" It wasn't a bear, but some things have had me running! "I think I've used all my reserves already!" (Metaphorically...) "More isolation? When will I ever get to sit with a friend again? Gah!" Now I know what I'd say to me if I were reading this. The survivalists in the wilderness all knew the pros and cons of all their arguments, too. What made the difference in many of them was their “Why.” If they had a solid reason for Why they were there, they were able to endure and press on longer than those who felt their initial reasoning flimsy.
What's your “Why” this year?
Psalm 33:20-22 says, “We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you ALONE.” (NLT)
I can try to live life alone or I can trust in the Lord alone. I’ve seen what I get when I try to do life alone...a rather sketchy looking psychological lean-to accompanied by a gnawing hunger of wanting more than I can trap. This year, I’m tapping out to self and tapping in to Jesus. Bears, rain, winds, wolves, and even murder hornets may come, but my “Why” keeps me steady and sure, for His “unfailing love surrounds us.” We’re going to make it another day.
Pam and her husband, John, and two teenaged daughters packed up their fulfilling, understood Midwestern lives and moved to Cairo, Egypt in 2009. Her dream of serving overseas became a shocking reality of daily cultural encounters that often left her wondering if she’d actually landed on Mars instead! From Cairo to Khartoum to Upper Egypt to deserts unknown, Pam continues to learn, live and thrive in a sandy, sweaty, hospitable land. An author, global worker, teacher trainer and self-proclaimed “professional luncher,” Pam wants to share laughter, life and hope with her dear Middle Eastern neighbors while providing insight into their customs and everyday life with her friends in the West.
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