Recently I decided to renovate the living room of our old terrace house. I painted the ceiling and replaced the ugly and dated lights. I took down the faded curtains and put up roller blinds. I spent hours on the walls—sanding off flaking paint, filling the many dents and holes, resanding, then applying multiple coats of new paint. A cement slab in the corner was removed and new tiles were laid. The fireplace also needed to be replaced. Finally, I sanded back the skirting boards and repainted them with gloss. It was hard work, but I felt proud of the changes I saw each day.
The memory is vivid. My wife Merryn and I sat in emotional pain, talking. “If this really is our last chance to have a baby and it doesn’t happen,” Merryn said, “I need something else.” We’d spent the past decade trying everything to start a family—IVF treatment, healing prayer, adoption—all without success. We now awaited the result of one final IVF round. “If it doesn’t happen,” she said, her face downcast, “I have to have something else to look forward to.”
Christmas cards and nativity scenes depict the wise men visiting the Christ-child. But I think the story is bigger than the way it’s presented. The wise men’s journey is also a paradigm for our spiritual journey.
Deep down, each of us longs to know what we’re here on earth to do—to have some sense of purpose and mission. Some people have a “life verse” from the Bible that gives them succinct focus. If you don’t have one of those, perhaps today’s passage is a good one to adopt.
After I finished speaking at a church one Sunday on how the cross shows that God can redeem our broken dreams and suffering, a guy came up to me wanting to talk. “I haven’t been to church in 26 years,” he said. “I’ve just been through a divorce and a business failure—I have lots of broken dreams. Just this week I said to a friend, ‘If there is a God, why doesn’t He step in to help?’ Then all week I had this feeling I should get to a church service. What you said tonight has really rocked me. It’s like I was meant to be here.”
My young nieces recently introduced me to a favorite TV show of theirs: The Dog Whisperer. In the series, an animal behaviorist named Cesar Millan gives advice to pet owners who have unruly dogs. We soon became hooked on the show.
God has told me why your skin cancer hasn’t been healed,” the woman said to my friend. Really? he thought. Having suffered through two failed operations to remove the cancer from his face, my friend was desperate for a reason why. “God has told me it’s one of three things,” she continued. One of three? my friend thought. Even God doesn’t know for sure? “It’s either a generational curse passed down from your parents . . . ” It’s my parent’s fault? “Or it’s a secret sin in your life . . .” Which one? (My friend can be cheeky.) “Or you lack the faith to be healed.”
Our lives began to fall apart when my daughter took her life,” the woman told me during a break in the conference we were both attending. “And then our second daughter spiraled into depression and started to ‘self-harm.’ After several months we discovered the reason why: While my husband and I were missionaries in Indonesia, two of our three children had been sexually abused at a mission-run school. We had given our lives to serve God. . . . Why didn’t He protect us?” I would hear similar stories at that conference—people who felt betrayed by God.
As any couple trying to have a child knows, every 28 days you’re looking for signs of success. For many couples, this expectation is met with disappointment for a few months until conception occurs. But for others, this monthly cycle of raised and dashed hopes can last for years. Proverbs 13:12 describes such an experience well: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”