When John Piper needed surgery a few years back he wrote a great piece, "Don't waste your cancer." He argued that it would be wasted "if you think that 'beating' cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ." When I needed a surprise operation in 2008, I stood on Piper's shoulders and wrote, "Don't waste your bypass." I resolved to spend my remaining years praising Christ and promoting what derives from Christ's sacrifice for us.
Now here's another, less-significant message. Moving into a new home in Asheville and never having had poison ivy during my six decades, I didn't keep in mind useful sayings like "Leaves of three, let it be." My legs were soon blistering and oozing. I started taking 12 days of prednisone pills, which have both common and rare side effects.
The common side effect I had was insomnia—and realizing that all things come from God, the question was how not to waste my poison ivy. OK, here's an opportunity not just to read for 30 minutes on the treadmill each day but also to read late at night. I wanted challenging but optimistic books, not "sky is falling" diatribes that might leave me lying in bed and churning about dire tidings. Having read America Alone by witty columnist Mark Steyn (Regnery, 2006), which dealt with the fall of Europe to Islam, one night I picked up his new one, After America (Regnery, 2011).
Big mistake. Europe is one thing, but the end of our beloved USA? Steyn's humor seemed gone, and the subtitle, Get Ready for Armageddon, which I had thought of as raised-eyebrow irony was dead serious. Despite my confidence in Christ, the book pressed all my vestigial worry buttons, particularly because I didn't expect Steyn to be so hopeless. It was after midnight and I was churning.
What to do? Take a heavy-duty sleeping pill? Read a joke book? That would have been wasting my poison ivy. I looked through books sent from publishers and never read, searching for one about a person and nation in dire circumstances: Aha, a Reformed Expository Commentary on the book of Daniel by Iain Duguid (P&R, 2008). Years ago I taught a Sunday school course on Daniel as a study on how to follow God within hostile organizations, but now Duguid dealt with my worries.
First worry: As Daniel's country was gone, so the United States will be someday (I hope not soon). Well, what if it is? Duguid posed the right question: "Are we pouring ourselves into the pursuit of the power and the glory of this world's kingdoms?...?or are we instead pouring ourselves into the pursuit of God's kingdom, the only kingdom that will truly last?" We should love America but love God more, and whatever He does is right.
Second worry: What if life became very hard for Susan and me, or for our children, "after America"? Here's Duguid's biblical comfort: "God has not promised to give us the grace to face all the desperate situations that we might imagine finding ourselves in. He?...?does promise that if he leads us through the fire, he will give us sufficient grace at that time. Like manna, grace is not something that can be stored up for later use: Each day receives its own supply."
Let me add that I believe Steyn is wrong. We still have time to come out of a national death spiral. I will do whatever small things I can do to help prevent such a disaster. The United States has been in grim situations before: Consider Dec. 8, 1941, or some Cold War nights when nuclear war could have come. God brought us through those fires and I hope He will bring us through this one—but if He doesn't, it will still be good.
That night I did not waste my poison ivy. I finally went from reading about Daniel to reading the book of Daniel and then reading Psalm 73 about being "envious of the arrogant?...?until I went into the sanctuary of God." Amen. When I thought about going into the sanctuary, I was finally able to go to bed and sleep—not long, but well. Thank you, God.
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