Last night I had a nightmare. I woke up with a start, trying to reorient myself. Usually, when I wake up from a bad dream, I am so relieved when I realize that what I have imagined isn’t true. Not this time. I was dreaming that a terrible disease was threatening my family and the whole world, and right now a dreadful disease is threatening our world. The news keeps getting worse, not better. April 1 has arrived, and we are facing another month of quarantine. Many people are sick. Many are dying. Many are out of work. All are fearful.
As I thought about all we are facing, I thought, This is beyond my ability to endure. This is beyond our ability to endure. And then I remembered that Paul had said much the same thing centuries ago, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed we felt we had received the sentence of death” (2 Corinthians 1:8). As always, God’s words to us give voice to our experience. Paul was not glossing over the worst part of life. He wasn’t giving us seven tips on how to work from home or manage our Zoom meetings. He is honestly sharing that his life has become beyond his ability to endure.
But God’s words also always take us beyond despair. Paul goes on to say that this happened so that we might learn to rely not on ourselves but on our God. He can do what no human can do—raise the dead—and that is who Paul is depending on in his despair (v. 9). Paul puts his faith in God who “has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers” (v. 10).
After reading that, I took a few moments and wrote a list of all the ways and times I have seen God deliver. It turned into a long list as I remembered how God has delivered time after time in unexpected ways. Writing it all down reminded me that God has been my good shepherd through births, deaths, and everything in between. God has been the good shepherd of my family, my church, and my work. As I wrote, my confidence grew that the God who has delivered us will deliver us. I don’t know how, but I know who to rely on—the God who raises the dead to life. And I know that God works in response to our prayers. So even though we feel keenly our helplessness, our prayers matter.
As I write this, my husband is leading a virtual prayer meeting in the next room. I hear the prayers of God’s people asking for courage, help, and deliverance for people near and far. I hear our missionaries join in from around the world—far from home, but not far from God. I know that God hears those prayers and will deliver. I don’t know how. Apparently, I am not God’s counselor (Romans 11:34). He doesn’t need my advice, but he will use my prayers. When I woke up last night and thought I’m living my nightmare, I had forgotten to factor in God’s power to raise the dead and to deliver those who feel the sentence of death. And that makes all the difference in the world.