How to respond to personal tragedy.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust in me.” –John 14:1
As I write this devotional, Paul Li remains in a Shawnee, Oklahoma jail-cell, having been charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident. The tragic incident occurred when Paul was driving home to Los Angeles in his semi-truck having spent many long days on the road. He has spent the last three months confined as he waits for his hearing and trial.
But a jail cell is not foreign to Paul. He’s a former pastor in China who has been imprisoned on numerous occasions for his faith. This is a different situation, of course. Paul owns what has taken place and knows that his future is bleak. What I found noteworthy is his attitude to his circumstances which he shared in a recent letter sent to his wife. What did I observe? He begins his letter with the following:
“During these long months, I have experienced God’s grace. Despite my circumstances, God has treated me well, lifting me up, and not letting me be downtrodden…”
He has not lost hope. His faith is not in himself or his ability to resolve his circumstances. Second, he is other-oriented as opposed to being consumed with his personal suffering and loss of freedom. He requests prayer for God’s comfort for the family who lost their son in the accident. Later in the letter he shares how God has opened doors of ministry for him with those who share his cell. Each day he and two other cellmates read and study the Gospel of John, especially the fourteenth chapter.
In that chapter, John accents Jesus’ instructions to the disciples regarding the need to trust God. Christ is preparing the disciples for his death, resurrection, and ascension and reminds them not to be troubled because the Holy Spirit will be present. These truths are what encourage Paul Li and that which he teaches others who are experiencing deep personal trouble.
When Jesus was with his disciples towards the end of his earthly ministry, he wanted them to think and respond to the difficulties in which they were about to face with faith and hope in their God, not in themselves and certainly not in each other. It is a challenge for us to understand and apply what Jesus is teaching. John 14:1 reminds us that having a healthy response to trouble times first requires owning the difficulty. Life is often challenging, and we may think that we can just “push through.” We never turn to God unless we are convinced that we are in need.
Our need is great. At the same time, we need to be reminded that we serve and worship a great God who is omnipotent, sovereign, and incredibly loving. He is amazing and beyond our ability to fully appreciate him. He alone is most worthy to trust in all times and circumstances, especially when life becomes difficult and troubled.
Chuck Garriott is the founder and Executive Director of Ministry to State.