Abiding In God - Living Fruitful Lives
Friday evening the ladies of Grace Church gathered together to be refreshed and encouraged to abide in Christ. Marilyn gave a brief teaching on John 15 on abiding in God's word and in his love. Both Sharon Pyle and Ally Loftness shared testimonies with us recounting the Lord's care for them as they walked through difficulties.
My name is Sharon Pyle. I was very happily married for nearly 32 years until my husband passed away from a cancerous brain tumor. We have five children, two sons and three daughters, one of whom is here tonight, my Stacey. Four of my five children have blessed me with twelve grandchildren, with number thirteen on the way, a little boy due in early June.
When Marilyn asked me to prayerfully consider sharing, with our topic being abiding, I was so encouraged. She told me she thought I would be able to encourage you ladies, but I was the one encouraged right off the bat! She wasn't asking me to share on loss or grief or loneliness, topics any widow could definitely expound on. But abiding? It was exciting for me to realize that yes, I do abide in Him. I MUST abide in Him to be able to carry on. I am not justsurviving without my husband day after day, not just existing; but I am abiding, resting in the arms of my Lord Jesus Christ, wondering and excited about the plans he has for me for the rest of my life. He is in charge of my future, a future that doesn't at all look like what I thought it would, but one I can be sure that my sovereign Lord has under control.
As a widow, I have the perfect opportunity to show the world that my God is faithful and loving and merciful; my God walks beside me; He leads me and carries me; and He provides for my every need. Through me, because I am a widow, God can be glorified. I have been called to be a widow for now, just as I had been called to be a wife for almost 32 years. I am 100% sure that none of you ladies wants to join this club I belong to called widowhood. But I am also 100% sure that no matter what the Lord calls you to do, He will be right there to guide and lead as you abide in Him, just as He is there for me.
That's not to say that embracing widowhood was anything like becoming a wife. In fact, I prayed and begged and pleaded NOT to become a widow. And the Lord answered my prayers for healing for my husband with a NO. He said NO. That doesn't mean He hasn't cared about the pain and suffering I've endured. His comfort and care are constant. And He has collected all my tears in a bottle, a huge bottle I might add. What it does mean is that I am privileged to give Him glory as I seek Him in my sorrow, as I am joyful even in my pain, and as I rest in Him and His love for me.
I guess I understand better than most people that life is short, not as short for me as for my husband, but nevertheless short. He's been gone for more than 11 years, but sometimes I still can't believe he's not here to share my life. Everyone knows it is difficult to lose someone you love. But the truth is, the realdifficulty lies in losing someone who loved you. We can direct love anywhere we choose, but to lose someone who actually chose to love us is devastatingly painful. My Bud chose to love me, and I have lost his love. But there is one who will always love me, my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. How completely undeserving I am of that love, and how very grateful I am for it. How can I NOT love Him and trust Him and seek Him wholeheartedly.
So when I became a widow I had a few choices. I could wallow in self-pity, and believe me I struggled with this. Or I could run to the Lord. I could embrace my fears, and I struggled here as well. Or I could embrace my Lord. I am happy to say that BY HIS GRACE, I chose to abide, to rest in Him. I came to Him weary and heavy-laden and brokenhearted, helpless to do life on my own. And he showered me with love and mercy and comfort and strength to do things I never ever even thought I would have to do. All of a sudden I was a single mom. I raised a teenaged boy on my own. I put kids through high school and college and sat in front of young men asking for my daughters' hands in marriage. But all the while I knew that apart from Christ, I could do nothing. Yes, I have been weary. But I haven't had to muster up strength to pursue and know Jesus. He has provided all the strength and all the grace I have needed. I have been able to abide in Him because of my relationship with Him.
Let me end with just one of the many scriptures that helped me along the way:
Ps. 27:13, 14 I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.
Many of you heard Chris's testimony at church last month about how God sustained him through trial and healed him. It is a testimony of God's powerful goodness and steadfast love. As you probably know, when you are walking closely with someone who is suffering, you suffer as well.
But it also means you become the recipient of that same goodness and love. So Marilyn asked me to share how God met and carried me during Christopher's illness.
My husband was violently ill and it showed in the most public, outward and terrifying ways. To recap, his episodes came at unpredictable times and were totally out of our control. His attacks included a pounding heart, sweating, numbness, vomiting, and piercing head pain. He once had an attack in the doctor's office waiting room after panicking that we were lost in the elevator on the way to the correct floor. He began throwing up and sobbing because of his headache, clutching his hair. He had several attacks while working, once dropping to the floor of Starbucks yelling and crying during business hours. He had attacks at home in front of the kids that resulted in 911 calls, paramedics administering oxygen, and several ER visits, every time being told by medical professionals that he was healthy, and that he should perhaps consider seeing a psychiatrist. It was an obviously scary time.
On the way to visit one doctor, we were driving when Chris asked me,
"What if this is for the rest of my life, babe? Can you make it? Can you stick with me?" The answer was instantly, obviously "yes of course", but for the first time he verbalized what we had both wondered - what if this is permanent? Will there be enough grace for us to walk through the deep, deep waters of suffering? Isaiah 43:2 the Lord promises, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” And when I was aware of how weak and powerless I was, the promise that he was WITH ME became even more meaningful. More than once the words of Peter came to mind: "But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps." There was a gospel connection to our suffering that didn't explain it away, but set it in relief next to Jesus's, which was very empowering. I could lean on Jesus as my help and example. I often sung the refrain aloud to myself: “When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay.”
Yet suffering can easily disorient us. It did for me at times. We can feel lonely and isolated and forgotten – by others and by God. Tonight Marilyn will be talking about abiding in Jesus, and it struck me how relevant this theme was for me in our trial. In John 15, Jesus says, "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me." Rather than feeling disoriented when life surprises you, I learned that I am actually always at home in Jesus. The miracle in this imagery though is that the branch is grafted into the vine by the vinedresser. So even though we are told to abide in him, he has already done all the work of ensuring that we are able to abide and he is also already abiding in us permanently. “And I in you,” he says. This was clear to me in two ways as we walked through the pain and darkness of illness.
He was with us through the church. Christians around the country emailed me specifically to tell me they loved us and were praying for us. Brian Chesemore in Louisville gave Chris his undivided attention and care over the phone through one awful attack. A friend of ours met us at the ER in PG County at midnight so we weren't alone and to pray with us. People in our local church whom we didn't even know brought us meals, restaurant gift cards, and stayed to pray over us. One friend worked at the hospital where Chris finally got admitted and came and sat with us in his hospital room to encourage us and explain anything she could. Members of our care group drove well over an hour to spend time with us in the hospital. Doc Mays dropped everything every time I called to answer my questions, listen to what our doctors were prescribing, give advice, and to give spiritual encouragement. I will never forget Doc looking at Chris in the eyes one Sunday at Solid Rock Church and telling him, even though none of us had any idea what was going on, "This WILL end. This will not go on forever." Those words were life to me and I knew the Holy Spirit was behind them. Our parents, two of my sisters and a dear friend spent all day with me at Hopkins during Chris's surgery. Then we could also look at numerous examples in the church of saints who had suffered longer and in many cases much more than we had: CJ and Carolyn, Sharon Pyle, Justin Cowan and his mom Vicki, Scott Simpson, and the list went on and on. I learned that I could enjoy the presence of Jesus in a very real way through his people. All the care extended to us was HIS care for us.
Secondly, I learned that abiding in Jesus, in a very real way, meant he and his Word were all I had. Isaiah 33:6 rung so true, “And he will be the stability of your times.”
This worked in two ways. The first was that by his grace I'd been spending time in his Word for 15 years and learned that the time of suffering was a time of reaping what I'd sown. I was familiar with his promises and character, so even on days when we were lost, confused, and spent physically and spiritually, I could draw on the mental bank I'd invested in. But even sweeter were the ways he met me immediately and unexpectedly in his Word. There were occasions I was able to spend time with Him alone and He would speak his comfort and love to me so clearly. I spent lots of time reading Isaiah and Isaiah 41 in particular became like the vine that I, the branch, clung to.
"When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water." 17-18
The Lord reminded me that he can do the impossible. He was can make the desert wilderness a pool of water. This word was as veritable to me as promise; that is how powerfully God spoke through the Scriptures. He would open up my impossible desert and make it a place of springs.
I think there is a lesson in both of these manifestations of God's love. The first I learned is, when someone is suffering, do not draw back from suffering with them and extending practical care where you can. You are the hands and feet of the Lord to that person in a powerful way. I will never thank those who cared for me - or the God who sent them - enough. And the second is to draw near to God and seek him through his word now, when the trial may not be pressing in on every side. The storehouse of grace in Scripture is sometimes the only thing to lean on when you are in a wilderness.
Ultimately I learned that in my suffering, I was suffering WITH Christ who had already suffered for me. And I learned that my God was equally full of power, love and wisdom and that he who promised to crown my life with lovingkindness was never going to leave me.