When my dad was 42 years old, he had a heart attack. After some recovery time, he was soon on the mend, but a few years later, he began experiencing chest pain again. He was referred to a specialist and after tests, was told his arteries had become so blocked, he was to avoid any stress or exertion, as the slightest incident could provoke another serious heart attack.
He was put on an emergency list for quadruple heart bypass, but as the cardiologist drew a diagram and illustrated just how BAD things really were, he said my dad was unusual. Somehow, despite catastrophic blockages, a tiny vessel had grown which was feeding blood supply to the main artery. The doctor said he’d never seen anything like it before, but it was that small vessel which was keeping my dad going.
Not long after, dad went in for major open heart surgery and over 25+ years later, he’s still keeping our family on our toes, despite another couple of heart attacks and diagnosis of a neurological condition as well.
At heart, he’s a preacher, an evangelist and a man of prayer. If I tell him of a friend who’s struggling, he will always stop the conversation with ‘let’s pray right now’. Many of my friends will tell you how their circumstances have changed because of those powerful prayers.
Last year, on top of everything else, dad went through treatment for (thankfully benign) skin cancer and just yesterday, had an accident at home. Even as they were waiting for an ambulance, my stoic dad was doing his best to keep everyone else calm. He’s since been stitched up and sent home!
Time after time, I’ve sat with him and he’s told me he’s not afraid. Yes, he gets frustrated and fed up (who wouldn’t?!) and there are extremely difficult days for him and all the family, but there is a strong, single thread of faith which runs through all of these trials. It’s a belief that simply, our bodies are just ‘tents’, they’re just temporary homes. The real ‘us’ can never be destroyed by sickness or death.
No one wants to live in a ‘tent’ that doesn’t work very well, but neither should we be defined by it. As a family, we’ve always avoided language like ‘MY heart problems…MY disease’. They’re not ‘mine’. They might be afflicting the body, but they don’t define my spirit, who God created ME to be.
We live in a world where ‘identity’ and ‘community’ is sometimes formed and created around the things which destroy our bodies. Name an illness and you’ll find a ‘community’ and a Facebook group which draws people together under the umbrella of suffering. Don’t get me wrong, I understand fully that support groups are important to many, but at the same time, from a Biblical point of view, our identity doesn’t come from the things which don’t work, but rather the things which do work, like the incredible grace, mercy and love of God.
The apostle Paul knew this to be true too. He was a man who suffered cruel punishment after cruel punishment but yet, he was known only as a follower of Christ, as a man who was willing to lay everything on the line, to follow the God who’d freed him from his old life.
Romans 8 is a beautiful, searing reminder that even when we suffer, when our bodies are decaying (which ALL of our bodies are, whether we like it or not), nothing can seperate us from the love of God. We may face setback after setback, but our spirits, that ‘inner man’ can’t be dented by the external stuff of our bodies.
So, if you’re struggling in some way (whatever it is) today, be encouraged that you are not the sum of your circumstances. As a believer, your identity is secure in the one thing in life which is immovable and unchanging – the character and love of God.
Romans 8 says it best.
“Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.
Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.
For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering.
We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)
And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.
What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” )
No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 8:18-39 NLT