The passing of old friends often brings a mixture of sadness and relief to those of us left behind. Such was the case in the recent homegoing of a friend of more than half a century in the ministry. He became afflicted with terminal cancer and, after a long siege, lost the battle.
Ralph gave strict instructions that there be no eulogies or tributes at the memorial service, just a simple graveside ceremony planting the physical seed that will emerge in full flower when the Lord returns in the Rapture. Still, when friends (in the words of a dying Civil War general) have crossed over the river to find rest on the other side, a portion of personal history goes with them; and we are the poorer for it.
In a conversation days before his departure, we talked about many things that related to the future, both for us personally and for that of our beloved country. We speculated about what life holds for our children and our children’s children. As our talk drew to a close, my friend expressed the depth of what it meant at that juncture in his life to rediscover words that had suddenly become intensely relevant in the book of Habakkuk.
“Elwood,” Ralph said, “doesn’t this say it all about the reality of what the situation is today, not only for me, but for all of us?” The words he referenced were these:
Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls—yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills (Hab. 3:17–19).“Elwood,” he continued, “with all that’s happening today, you must use this passage in Israel My Glory and let people who believe know that they have something better than financial security, or good health that will one day fail.” I promised I would. By writing this, I am keeping my promise.
I’m writing, however, not simply as a tribute to a friend’s unqualified faith and dedication to God’s Word, but because we desperately need to claim these Scriptures. For decades we have been assured that, though others in the world may suffer, America will still see the good times roll. The hardships and deprivation that fell on society after the stock market crashed in 1929, plunging the nation into the Great Depression, could not possibly happen again, we’ve been told. New regulations reportedly insulate us from a recurrence.
Today, though technically we may not be in a depression, great stress weighs down individuals and families who have been stripped of their jobs and lack the means to meet their obligations. How far down we will go before things bottom out, no one really knows.
During the Christmas doldrums of 2008, there was great anxiety over the inability to spend without limit and let tomorrow take care of itself. But someone wisely commented that the lack of abundant means seemed to cause many to turn to the simpler aspects of the celebration. If by that he meant a return to the manger and God’s unparalleled entry into time, I applaud the slight gasp of deprivation we suffer.
Jesus had something to say on the subject:
“And He said to them, ‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses’” (Lk. 12:15).Excessive pride in possessions and ownership is often misplaced. In reality, we own nothing permanently. We are only temporary tenants, exercising stewardship over temporal property that we will, in the end, relinquish to others. There is a time-worn phrase that warns, You can’t take it with you. No, you can’t; but you can send infinitely superior treasure on ahead, to be available when you arrive in the City where nothing will ever tarnish or be taken from you or become unavailable because a recession has closed the shops.
The fact is, when everything seems lost in the here and now, we are—as His children—still rich beyond measure. Habakkuk reminds us that in times like these, we have “rest in the day of trouble” (3:16). Rest about us, rest before us. What do we have to complain about?