by John Ellis
I’ve prided myself on my body’s ability to heal quickly. It’s rare that I’m sick for longer than 24 hours. In fact, it’s rare that the lingering effects of illness stay with me longer than that 24-hour period. A good case in point is the last time I had strep throat.
Late one afternoon on a Saturday in August seven and a half years ago, my throat began to hurt. As the evening wore on, the pain became worse. By the time the sun rose on the Sunday morning, it felt like there were razors in my throat. I immediately went to a Minute Clinic type place, was prescribed amoxicillin, took my first two doses that Sunday, and woke up Monday morning almost 100% back to normal.
At the time, that was par for the course since a normal sore throat would’ve gone away, usually sans medicine, within 24 hours.
I was thirty-five years old at the time. And, oh, what a difference those seven and a half years have made.
As I write this, I’m still dealing with the symptoms from the strep throat that sidelined me over four days ago. I’m currently several doses of amoxicillin in, have ingested more ibuprofen than is probably good for my liver, and have had seemingly gallons of Dayquil and Nyquil dumped into my system. And yet I’m still struggling.
By God’s grace, I am noticeably on the mend. But these last four days have been a new adventure, of sorts, for me. Thankfully, my strep throat this time did not manifest itself as painfully as it did last time. I can’t imagine dealing with the pain from the last time for the amount of time I’ve dealt with this time’s pain. Granted, I don’t think that even a whiff of ibuprofen entered my system last time (historically, I’ve eschewed medicine as the purview of those with weak immune systems).
Today, as I’ve struggled with the frustration of still being sick, I was also confronted with how I’ve wasted these last four days.
Lying in bed for most of the four days (by God’s grace, I’m feeling well enough to be up and about today), I’ve watched more NCAA March Madness than I intended and more movies than I probably have over the previous year combined.
What I didn’t do was read the Bible and spend time in prayer. I just lay there, feeling sorry for myself, and not doing anything productive.
I excused my inactivity because I was (am) legitimately sick and with a foggy brain brought about by illness, lack of sleep, and medicine. Besides, I wasn’t doing anything sinful. God will understand, I thought.
My excuses were the perfect storm for getting off the hook and living for myself.
You see, it’s not God who understood; it’s me who understood. And since I am still guilty of trying to create a god in my own image from time to time, the god who understood was a god I’d created in my idolatrous heart.
Thankfully, and solely by God’s grace, I was confronted with my sin today and have repented.
I was finally able to sleep last night, and took advantage of my family being away at our church’s worship service to sleep in. An activity that I needed to do for my health. However, when I finally woke up, I immediately fell back into the habits I had begun to form over the last few days. I brewed some coffee (an activity I hadn’t enjoyed since Wednesday), turned on ESPN, and contemplated watching the movie on Amazon Prime that had looked interesting to me the night before.
Thankfully, it didn’t take long for my older habits to kick in, and for me to remind myself that I am no longer as sick as I was. I no longer have an excuse to lie in bed and watch TV all day.
As I began to embrace activities that better resembled my normal “day-off” routine, I was struck by the thought that the last four days are going to become more routine as sick days and that my sick days are going to become more routine as I continue to age. What horrified me the most, far beyond even thinking about my own mortality, is, based on the previous four days, that my desire to grow in grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ will become anemic if I continue to steer into the excuses of “my activities aren’t sinful, I’m really sick, and God will understand.”
The Holy Spirit confronted me with the fact that I have not been living eschatologically these last four days – living in light of the reality that Jesus is coming back and that what I do today matters for that Final Day. Which is sadly ironic since that’s basically what I preached last Sunday morning.
In Ephesians, which is not the book I preached from last week, Paul writes in 1:18 that he’s praying that they will, “[have] the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.”
Ephesians is what’s referred to as a “circular letter.” In other words, it wasn’t written to address a specific situation and/or problem. Ephesians is Paul’s template for who the Church is, how the Church was brought about, how the Church is to live, and what the Church’s mission is in light of Jesus’ eternal rule. It’s our marching orders, so to speak.
In a nutshell, for the purposes of this post, the book as a whole, and narrowing in on 1:18, teaches, among other things, that for those of us who are repenting of our sins and placing our faith in Jesus, our hope in eternal salvation rests solely in our calling in Christ Jesus. What’s more, that hope, our salvation, abounds with the promise from God the Father that He will heap blessings on His children for all eternity, because the Church is Christ’s inheritance.
It should be noted that the phrase “his glorious inheritance” in Ephesians 1:18 is most likely not referring to the inheritance that Believers receive. It’s most likely referring to the Church, which is Christ’s inheritance. The larger point stands, though, because being Christ’s inheritance means that we are in Christ and are also recipients of all of God’s promises.
Since our hope is in Christ, there is a coming a day when we will enter God’s full and final rest.
As important as a good meal is to a starving man here on this earth, that’s not his final hope. A good meal today will not save your soul. But, the very thing that does save your soul (faith in Jesus) brings with it an eternity of meals to which the best meals on this earth can only allude.
For those who are suffering through illness, whether temporary or terminal, our hope isn’t in physical healing in this life. As much as we should give praise to God for advancement in medicine and the talented men and women who reflect God as the sustainer of life through a career in medicine, the hope for Christians is found in being healed of our sins through faith in Jesus which restores the relationship with our Heavenly Father. For those of us who are in Christ, there is a coming day when sickness and suffering will never again assail us. However, for those who are not repenting of their sins and placing their faith in Jesus, that same coming day will only bring an eternity of suffering.
For Christians, our earthly sufferings are partially a reminder of what we’ve been saved from (as well as a stark reminder that the Curse has not yet been fully undone). For non-Christians, their earthly suffering is just a glimpse of what they’re going to endure for all eternity.
Over these last four days, I must confess that I was living as if my heart has not been enlightened to “the hope to which he has called [me].” And that’s scary considering that I am getting older.
Unless Jesus comes back first, and barring some unforeseen tragedy befalling me, there is coming a day when my body will make known to me in even starker terms the Curse’s continued power. I will struggle to walk, to breathe, to read, to eat, to sleep. Pain will wrack my entire body, my pill cabinet will be filled with medicines that dull my physical pain but at the expense of my mental acuity, and I will have to manufacture energy to do many of the things that I take for granted today.
Just last Sunday, I had the privilege of briefly speaking with a brother at our church who is tethered to an oxygen tank. As we talked, I felt badly because he was in obvious discomfort as he struggled to breathe. I wanted to say, save your breath, brother, you don’t need to talk to me. But he was the one driving the conversation. He was the one telling me about how thankful he was to be able to worship God with his church family that morning. He was the one praising God for the many blessings that he has received.
As I walked away from him, I prayed a quick prayer thanking God for the grace in that brother’s life and his testimony of faithfulness in the face of much physical adversity. I thanked God for the visible demonstration of a Believer who was living in light of Jesus’ return and not in light of temporary suffering. About thirty minutes later, I stepped into the pulpit and admonished everyone there, including that brother, with the application to be faithful in pursuing godliness because Jesus is coming back. It matters what we do today.
And then a few days later I found myself wasting my illness by watching sports and movies.
This afternoon, as I realized what a hypocrite I had been this past week, I was even more bothered by what it will mean to my sanctification if I steer into this pattern of behavior that I established during this illness.
By God’s grace, I should’ve read the Bible. By God’s grace, I should’ve spent hours in prayer, hours that I usually don’t have to spend in prayer. By God’s grace, I should’ve pursued godliness instead of comfort and distraction.
If I’m unwilling to do that now when I know, at worst, that my illness will only last for a few days, how will I respond when I’m elderly and my body and mind are failing me in ways that I have yet to understand?
Obviously, at least I hope it’s obvious, the title for this post is meant to be taken tongue-in-cheek. While it’s true that I should be careful to be faithful to God’s Word when I preach as well as being careful to be honest about my sins and being willing to repent of my sins, I’m thankful that God used my sermon and my illness to reveal my hypocrisy.
You see, God used strep throat to reveal idols in my heart; idols that I had convinced myself weren’t there. I’m thankful that in His mercy He has chosen to reveal those idols to me while I’m still relatively young. This is a lesson that I want to learn sooner rather than later. Likewise, by God’s grace, all Believers should desire to learn this lesson in their youth rather than in their old age. However, even in old age, God’s grace is sufficient to learn to trust in Him and to pursue godliness even in the face of much physical discomfort.
Whether young or old, begin praying for the faith to live through times of sickness in light of Jesus’ return. It matters how you spend your time, even when you’re sick.