Isaiah lists a series of miraculous restorations that happen once God is on the move: the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame leap, the mute speak.
These are signs of the Messiah. Isaiah 35 is the very text Jesus alludes to when John the Baptist is rotting in Herod’s prison and he sends his followers to ask Jesus if He is really the One they were to expect. Jesus sends word back to John that, as we saw in a couple of chapters back, must be cold comfort. All the same, don’t miss the substance of Jesus’ message: on His watch, physical restoration, just like Isaiah foretold, is taking place. “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Matthew 11:5).
The Man for All Seasons knows winter. He is a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering. He is close to the brokenhearted. He is maybe closer to John in His darkness than He was to John in His limelight. We can know the fellowship of sharing in Christ’s sufferings because, first and foremost, He’s entered the fellowship of sharing in ours.
Jesus reserves His deepest intimacy for winter. But He displays His greatest handiwork in spring. He brings living water into thirsty lands, emotional strength to faltering hearts, physical wellness to the sick and lame.
And just as the entire creation responds to God’s presence, so too this “liberation from bondage to decay” among the Sons of God is felt creationwide. Not only the lame are cavorting about like deer, the deaf listening to Bach or Bachman-Turner Overdrive, the blind gawking at all the pretty flowers, but everything wakes up with eyes to see.
Sometimes we experience this in the most literal way: God heals us of a lifetime illness or debilitating condition — not doctors, or medicine, or therapy, but God, direct and immediate. I’ve seen that., though not as often as I’d like or my Bible leads me to believe I should. But I’ve seen it.
One story will suffice. Helena came to me dying. She was pared down to less than a hundred pounds. Her skin was grey as ash and taut as wax. She had a rare incurable blood disease, and her doctor gave her less than a month before the long sleep in the pine box. She came to plan her funeral — songs she wanted sung, texts she wanted read, the story told of how God rescued her from a life of drink.
We planned that.
Then I had an unction, as the old time preachers called it. It was to pray for Helena’s healing. I asked her if I could, and she didn’t think that it would hurt.
That was nearly ten years ago. She got well straightaway. She got fat and sassy in no time. The next year, I performed her marriage to Jim — she nearly seventy, he already in his eighties. A favorite photo in my office (besides those of my wife and children) is of Helena and Jim on their wedding day, both smiling like imps, her cheeks plump, a halo of wildflowers in her hair like a forest nymph. She became a workhorse around the church, and three years ago decided to move, compliant husband in tow, back to her homestead in Saskatchewan, where she could repair her old house (she was a carpenter by trade), nurse Jim in his dosage, and save all her relatives from the coming wrath. She phones me approximately every three months, hails me like a barmaid, and sounds hearty enough to outlast another dozen or more prairie winters (As I was finishing my edits for this book, I received news that Jim died — nearly ninety, in his sleep, and smiling.)
I love that story. I wish I had more of them.
What I’ve seen hundreds of times, though, is physical restoration that overflows from emotional renewal. Vindication brings a second wind. Our feeble bodies grow robust. In winter, you want to sleep half the day. You lack energy for simple tasks. You’re not hearing well, seeing well. You slur and mumble words. But when spring arrives, you leap from your bed. You accomplish a whole days work by nine in the morning, and you feel like you’re just getting started. You run and don’t grow weary.
When I plunged into winter, one sign of that was I could hardly wake up, and ached most of the time. People had to repeat things to me because I wasn’t listening as carefully as I should. I often had to repeat things to others because I wasn’t speaking as clearly as I might. I failed to notice much. I dragged myself around. I was half dead, almost blind, borderline lame.
But when spring started again — the rivulet on the desert floor that became a flood, the bird chirping in a tree that became the woods ringing with birdsong — the old energy and focus and clarity returned.
I’ve also witnessed the physical beauty and vitality that bloom on those in whom God is doing a deep work. I have seen this so many times — a brightness in the eyes, a glow in the skin, a sheen in the hair, a bounce in the step, a squareness in the shoulders, a lift in the voice — that I use it as a touchstone for gauging people’s walk with God. I can, generally, at a glance know when someone is close to God or far from Him — or, better put, whether they are experiencing God’s closeness or distance.Their bodies tell me. Their eyes say so.
Even those who do not get physically better in any medically significant way — the cancer victim who doesn’t experience remission, the MS victim who’s eyes begin to fail, the Parkinson’s struggler whose limbs just shake and stiffen, unremitting — even they experience a form of physical renewal in springtime. Springtime brings the consolation of hope. It gives the assurance that death has lost its sting. There is a beauty in this hope and this assurance. There is beauty in a woman whose chemo-induced baldness, unswaddled, shines like a pearl, in the man whose palsy makes him shimmy like a Spanish dancer. There is a beauty in their defiance and their acceptance. There is beauty in their standing in the hope that death can’t steal or destroy.
Carol got that beauty.
The drugs that she was on puffed her up like dough and made her as tipsy and groggy as a drunk. She would blurt out strange utterances like she had Tourette’s syndrome. Her cascades of blood hair melted and regret in bristly tufts poking up here and there on the waxy sheen of her scalp. Her right eye, damaged by surgeries, drooped permanently. She was unrecognizable from her former self. When we escorted people who’d last seen her well into her hospice room, it was with the caveat that her appearance was “shockingly altered.” It was one more indignity death heaped upon its stockpile of them.
By the end the beauty returned. She was just as bruised and bloated and bald as ever. But a light turned on inside, and all the ruination in the world couldn’t hide it. It got through the cracks and rubble.
The last time I saw her alive was in her hospice room. Cheryl and I had been called to come quickly. She was dying, we were told, within hours. We rushed to her side, along with a few others. She was comatose, her breathing heavy and ragged. We spoke to her, prayed over her.
And then we sang. We sang, a capella, clumsily, all her favorite songs. We sang for ourselves as much as anything. We sang in the hope that words and melodies she loved and once sang with gusto, arms lifted in arrogant love, would sift down to her inmost self and speak.
And then she woke. Not sit-bolt-upright-and-hail-us-loudly waking. But her lips began to move, and words formed on them. She was singing with us. We sang and sang, and she sang and sang with us. And in all my knowing her, I never saw her more beautiful.
She died two days later. She’s home now, her lowly body transformed to look like Jesus’ glorious body. That night, I got a little glimpse of what that might look like.
Spring is a time of physical renewal. But there’s one more renewal spring brews. It’s a restoring of moral bearings and a deep surge of energy to live in the light. The best part of spring is that our hearts are scrubbed clean.
~ Darren’s Comments ~
About fifteen years ago, I had the honor of being able to lead someone to Jesus. At the time, I was the deacon of facilities at our church, and this special someone dared to ask if I wanted some help in taking care of the church. I welcomed the help as I wasn’t to confident in what I was doing accepting the deacon of facilities position.
That someone, just by the way of giving him a name, was Tony. Tony and I got together after work to work on various projects that had a pressing need to get done. As we talked at the church, the Holy Spirit clued me in on that he was ever curious about Jesus and wanted to form a relationship with Him. Not wanting to shirk off my responsibility and not wanting any of the credit that says I led you to salvation, I told him in a gentle but firm voice, “If you truly want a relationship with Jesus you are going to say a salvation prayer by yourself and gave him instructions: 1) to confess your sins to Jesus Christ, 2) accept Him as your Savior from hell and live on for Him 3) live the rest of your life for Him despite whatever Satan has for you.” Spiritually, he grew like a weed until he got cancer. It was the fast acting kind as he was house-bound in less than six months. However, getting to listen to him proclaim his love for God in both words and actions, I knew that he was heaven-bound.
See, God arranged it so that Tony would ask me the right questions, and I would provide the right answers. The Sunday at church after his diagnosis, Tony requested prayer for healing from cancer. For that six months, our church felt an ever-presence with him. At his house during an agreement with Tony and the pastor, I remember various church people began to pray out loud for him. I felt a tug in my spirit to pray out loud for him as well given my struggles with expressive aphasia and given the experiences had with death when I was 18 (Running With Christ. . .). I prayed and prayed. I thought in my head that if God doesn’t hear my prayer I would be totally devastated. Then a few days later, his physical body died. I was devastated, as I said. I wanted to give up hope in God. I felt like if God did not hear me because if he did then Tony would be raised to physical life again. But it didn’happen like that. I sought comfort in the Bible, specifically Romans 8:18-30:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
Romans 8:18-30 ESV
I was an elder at my church then, an elder who had a deeper relationship with God because of what He allowed me to go through. And yet, I couldn’t pray death away. Just like a scene from Star Wars 2 and 3 as Anakin Skywalker couldn’t stop the death of his mother and Padmè, his wife. I was emotionally, physically and mentally heartbroken, not renewed. Over the past two years, I poured my life out to him. Now, gone. Even at his funeral, I got up in front of all those that were in attendance for his and spoke. I don’t know if anyone was spiritually changed by the closeness that Tony and I shared together, but him dying was another season of winter for me. Yet, it was the beginning of Tony’s springtime. After suffering so much from cancer, he is free to get to spend the rest of his spiritual life with Jesus. I eventually recovered, and look forward to seeing Jesus Christ along with him when my body is through with the work God has for me to do down here.
“How Do You Measure Spiritual Growth?” ~ Mark Buchanan
~ Darren L. Beattie, The Soul Blogger ~