When Life Breaks Your Wallet, Your Heart, Or Your Spirit
Job 13:15, II Corinthians 4:7-8
Professional football games played on Monday evenings have become so much a part of our American social and cultural milieu that the three words are now always spoken together as one word: “Monday-Night-Football.” Last fall, on one of those Monday Night Football telecasts, the announcers were discussing the great running backs of professional football history. When they came to Walter Payton of the Chicago Bears, they acknowledged him as the leading ground gainer in National Football League history. Then Frank Gifford said this: “What a runner! Do you realize that all together Walter Payton gained over nine miles rushing in his career? Just think of that…over nine miles!” To which the other sportscaster, Dan Dierdorf, replied: “And to think that every 4.6 yards of the way, someone was knocking him down!”
Well, what happens in professional football is true also in life. We get knocked down a lot. No matter who we are, no matter how strong and successful we may be, just about every 4.6 yards something in life knocks us down. Something comes along and breaks our wallet, our heart or our spirit. And the question is: how do we respond to that? How do we handle the defeats, the setbacks, the reverses, the problems, the burdens, the knockdowns, the heartaches, the broken dreams that come our way?
There was the job you wanted and didn’t get, the praise you needed, which never materialized: the romance which fizzled and left you out in the cold, the business deal which looked so promising and then fell through, the recession which leapt off the pages of the newspaper and began to pound your pocketbook, the heart-wrenching problem in your marriage or family which is slowly shredding your peace of mind, the promising young person who went off the fight a war in a foreign land and never came back, the accident which happened in the blink of an eye but which changed your life forever, the doctor’s dreaded word that you have an incurable illness, the phone call which turns that instrument of convenience into a messenger of death, bringing you word of the loss of a loved one. I could go on and on, but you know as well as I do that sometimes life knocks us down and breaks our hearts. How do we deal with that?
That is precisely what the Apostle Paul had in mind in II Corinthians 4. Listen again to his powerful words of Christian faith and hope: “We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…because we know that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also…and bring us into His presence…so we do not lose heart. We are always of good courage.”
And that’s precisely what the Book of Job is all about. Remember Job? He was the wealthiest, the most influential, and the most moral man in the land. He was a virtuous, righteous, and faithful servant of God. He was a good man, one of the best. Then suddenly tragedy struck him. Suffering came upon Job in three distinct blows. First, he was stripped of his wealth—life broke his wallet. Then his children were destroyed—life broke his heart. Finally, he was infected with a terribly painful disease—life broke his spirit. Job’s friends and neighbors began to speculate about what horrible hidden sins Job must have committed in order to warrant such a harsh expression of God’s wrath. Of course we know that the neighbors were wrong. The suffering didn’t come from God. Do you remember what the Psalmist said about all this: He didn’t say “My pain comes from the Lord.” No! He said: “My help comes from the Lord.” My friends, we are told the story of Job in Scripture to show us that God is not the source of our pain, rather He is the source of our strength and comfort and hope.
So today I would take the words of Paul and the story of Job and draw from them three possible responses we can make when we get knocked down by life. Poetically speaking, when life breaks our wallet, our heart, or our spirit, we have three choices: We can break down in self-pity, we can break out with bitterness, or we can break through with faith. Let’s look at these three choices, one at a time…
When life breaks our wallet, our heart, or our spirit, we can break down in self-pity.
We can just feel sorry for ourselves. We can throw in the towel and quit on life and spend the rest of our days crying “woe is me.” Sadly some people do that. They choose the way of self-pity.
I could take you today to the home of a man who has chosen this option. He spends every day wandering in the valley of self-pity. If I took you to see him, he would tell you in vivid detail about his plight. He would tell you about all the people who have done him wrong, and all the problems life has heaped upon him. His mind operates now almost solely in the realm of self-pity and it’s such a shame. He has had some heartbreaking troubles, sure, but haven’t we all?
In his book, Keeping First Things First, John Gile warns us to look out for self-pity. He says: “It is one of the most overlooked, most insidious and most devastating forms of evil, because it is not recognized as evil. It gets past our guard and distorts reality. It cuts off our sense of humor, shuts down our communication and stifles our creative process. It makes us concentrate on ourselves, miss the good we could be doing for others and ignore the voice of God. Letting all that happen to us is what makes self-pity so pitiful.” He’s right, self-pity is pitiful! Have you ever stopped to think about the fact that as much as we dread tragedy and sorrow and suffering, the people we most admire in life are the people who handle that well, people who refuse to give in to self-pity?
Mark this down—and if you will not write it on paper, then at least write it on your heart: Pain is inevitable in life, but misery is optional! You may never have heard of H. G. Spafford, but you have heard—and even sung—the words he wrote:
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Spafford wrote those words after the loss of his four daughters who were drowned in a shipwreck at sea. The words, “When sorrows like sea billows roll” were not just a figure of speech. He literally saw the sea billows come crashing into his life and sweep away his only four children. That hymn is the only hymn Spafford ever wrote, but it eloquently reveals a man who refused to choose the way of self-pity in life. Pain is inevitable in life, yes, but misery is optional. When life breaks our wallets, our hearts, or our spirits, we can break down in self-pity, if we choose.
When life breaks our wallet, our heart, or our spirit, we can break out in bitterness.
That’s what Job’s wife told him to do. “Just curse God and die,” she said to him. Sadly, some people do choose the way of resentment and bitterness when life knocks them down. They brood and seethe and become more angry and bitter with every passing day. They live every day filled not with hope but with hostility. When you run into them they unload on you a laundry list of grievances. They are mad at the President, and at the Governor, and at the Mayor. They are mad at the church, mad at their neighbors, and at their in-laws. They are mad at the world—and it simply amplifies and multiplies their tragedy.
A couple of days ago, at a conference, I heard my friend David McKechnie say something which I shall never forget. He said: “Pain either makes us bitter or it makes us better. Pain is for us either a prison or a prism—either it locks us away in the prison of resentment or it lets the light of God shine through.” To illustrate the point, McKechnie went on to tell the story of a little boy in his congregation named Brian Rush. Brian was born hydrocephalic. A shunt was implanted to try to remove some of the fluid from his brain, but the lower part of his body did not develop properly. He had to wear heavy braces. His dad was a former football player, a big husky man. Little Brian was a husky little guy as well, at least from the waist up. As he crawled around, he had to use his upper body to move himself, so he developed for his age, large arms and shoulders. He was a very strong little fellow. He went through numerous surgical procedures. The family was stretched to the breaking point not only emotionally but also economically, but oh how they loved little Brian. Because he had braces so large, he could not fit into a car seat. So whenever he rode in the car, his mother would prop him up in the back seat and he would then lean over the front seat and wrap his arms around his daddy’s neck. That’s how they traveled in the car. When he was five years old, Brian died. Later on, David McKechnie was talking with Brian’s dad, and knowing how much energy and emotion and money and resources had been drained away during those five years, McKechnie asked “Was it worth it?” Brian’s dad said: “Dave, when we would prop him up in the back seat and he would wrap his pudgy little arms around my neck and we would be driving down the road, Brian would lean into my ear and say, ‘Daddy, I love you. I love you!’ Nothing can replace that. I wouldn’t exchange those words for anything.”
Please listen closely for just a moment. This is so important. There is nothing in the world more devastating to your soul, nothing more debilitating to your spiritual life than resentment. We need to avoid it like the plague! Of course, it is a choice we have. When life breaks our wallet or our heart of our spirit, we can break out in bitterness and resentment. When life knocks us down, we can curse God and everything and everyone else around us, if we choose.
When life breaks our wallets, our hearts, or our spirits, we can break through in faith.
That is the path Job ultimately followed. He broke through with faith and trust. He says it so powerfully in Job 13:15—one of the most magnificent verses in all the Bible. Job cries: “Though He slay me yet will I trust Him.” What a glorious affirmation of faith in the power of our God!
Do you know the name Dave Dravecky? If not, you should. He was until recently the All-Star pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. His great left arm enabled him to throw a baseball with extraordinary speed and uncanny accuracy. It enabled him to fulfill his boyhood dream of becoming a celebrated baseball player. Then came the knockdown blow. Cancer struck—and wouldn’t you know it?—it struck that left arm. As a result, just a few weeks ago now—on June 18 to be exact—doctors at Sloan Kettering in New York amputated Dave Dravecky’s entire left arm and shoulder. But Dave Dravecky is not breaking down in self-pity, nor is he breaking out in bitterness and resentment. Instead, he is breaking through in trust and faith. Listen to what he said just a few days ago here in Orlando: “The second day after the operation, I went into the bathroom at the hospital with my shirt off. I looked in the mirror for the first time. I thought, ‘Whoa boy, they took a lot! But then I said, ‘Okay, Lord, this is what You and I have got to live with. Now let’s make the best of it!”
You see, the one saving reaction to make is simply to go on living, to go on believing, to go on trusting, to go on working, to go on praying, knowing that God is with us and that nothing, not even death, can separate us from Him and from His love. That’s the great Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Job, and according to Paul, and according to Dave Dravecky, and according to me.
Here is what I want you to remember today. When life breaks our wallets, or our hearts, or our spirits, we have a decision to make. We can break down in self-pity; we can break out with bitterness; or, thank God, we can break through with faith.
But the choice is ours.