Roger Bannister was considered the favorite for the 1500m race at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. He planned to retire if he won gold, but an unusual schedule at the Games affected his chances and he came in fourth. Instead of quitting, however, his disappointment spurred him on to continue competing. Two years later he went on to change sporting history. On the 6th of May in 1954 at the Iffley Road track in Oxford, England, Roger Bannister became the first man to run a mile in less than 4 minutes.
A man dealing with despair confessed to a Bible teacher, “My life is really in bad shape.” “How bad?” asked the teacher. Burying his head in his hands, the man moaned, “I’ll tell you how bad—I’ve got nothing left but God.”
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.”
As a preacher, I’m rightly concerned with the content of each of my Sunday sermons. I must confess, however, that I can fall into the trap of being overly concerned with what people think of my message—not whether or not the message is clearly understood or whether the people and the Lord Himself are blessed by what I say. I can become more concerned with the goal of having church members like what I say and approve of my message. Sometimes a furrowed brow in the congregation, especially from someone I know and respect spiritually, can seriously interrupt my flow and cause me no small amount of consternation.
Author and speaker Mary Lou Quinlan claims that her mother “inhaled a worry and exhaled a prayer.” She says this because her mother had a habit of writing down prayer requests and keeping them in a special place—her “God Box.” There was one rule related to these petitions. According to Mary, “If [anyone] ever worried about the request, Mom would say, ‘If you think you can handle it better than God, it’s coming out [of the box].’ ” This helped Mary and her family to let go of their concerns.
Senseless violence and dark injustice can make for a steady rain in life—dampening spirits in mists of gray. In the summer of 2013, a 17-year-old from a rough neighborhood jumped in front of his mother to protect her from an attack. The bullet struck and killed him, leaving his mother clutching his lifeless body in front of their home. The boy’s brother, who witnessed the crime, said later, “I lost a big piece of my heart that night.”
Mark 5:25-34 contains what I call my “If only I” steps. They’re the desperately needed, often last-resort, actions I often take to reach out to Jesus and find the healing and deeper intimacy I need.
Harrison Odjegba Okene had been trapped 100 feet underwater for more than 72 hours. His air and his hope were running thin. The Nigerian was a cook on a tugboat that sank in the Atlantic Ocean in May 2013, leading to the deaths of the 11 other crew members. Harrison, however, found his way to a small cabin with a small, dwindling air pocket where he shivered as temperatures plummeted. Comforted by psalms he had memorized, prayers to God, and memories of his wife, Harrison clung to life. When rescue divers arrived, they pulled four corpses out of the water and assumed Harrison would be the fifth. But when a diver reached for Harrison’s hand, he was surprised when Harrison reached back!
Life can be difficult. At times, burdens, disappointments, and uncertainties can seem too difficult to bear. Poet Annie Johnson Flint poignantly captured the struggles of life in her poem “One Day at a Time”:
Today was a day of gladness; tonight has been difficult. A seemingly small event had unleashed a torrent of emotion in me. The day before, my husband and I had received difficult news. Being stirred with faith, during the daylight hours I had grabbed on to the inexplicable determination and joy God placed in my heart—even in that difficult place. As the day turned into evening, though, I didn’t feel victorious. I felt lonely, discouraged, and frustrated.
On the homepage of a website I discovered recently, all the global natural disasters for the current year are graphically presented on a world map. Icons reveal landslides, earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes, floods, erupting volcanoes, windstorms, and more. It’s sobering to see the number of natural disasters that affect people around the globe!