Monday, June 29, 2009

Time to Put Your House in Order

Is your house in order? In our house, we like to have things basically cleaned up when someone comes to visit; and we usually have our work cut out for us…because things are usually not in order (as much as we may try). There’s stuff strewn all over the floor; the trash needs to be taken out; food needs to be prepared. Then there's that “unfinished business" in the bathroom that needs cleaning up.

When we prepare a will, we do so because we want "to put our house in order" so that when the day comes for our departure from this world we have ensured that our loved ones are cared for and our wishes fulfilled. Again, we don’t want to leave any "unfinished business" that others will have to sort out later. But if all we’ve done to put our house in order is to clean the house, or make sure that our property is properly disposed of when we die, we still have some unfinished business, (and praying) left to do. Here are three questions to help you put your house in order.

First, Have you acknowledged your finitude as a human being? One day, the prophet Isaiah came to Hezekiah, king of Judah, with some shocking news: "This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover." Nothing subtle about that! But what Isaiah says to Hezekiah…is really true of each one of us, regardless of our health situation. Because the truth is that we are mortal…even if most of us try to avoid thinking about it.
My doctor once wrote me a special note to take with me on a long trip to the middle east. "Steven Craig is an insulin dependent diabetic who requires insulin injections to sustain life." I thought to myself..."Gee, he's being a little overly dramatic" (I was still in denial). But he wasn't overstating the case! It was true. Without insulin I'm a gonner. What's more, even with insulin, I'm a gonner! We all are!
Freud once wrote: “We have tried to keep a deadly silence about death…. After all, one’s own death is beyond imagining, and whenever we try to imagine it, we can see that we really survive as spectators….at bottom” Freud said, “nobody believes his own death….” (cited in Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God, 159ff.). In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Woody Allen had this to say: “Someone asked me if my dream was to live on in the hearts of people. I said I would prefer to live on in my apartment. You drop dead one day, and it means less than nothing if billions of people are singing your praises every day all day long.”
What Isaiah said to King Hezekiah was unsettling…but it was also a blessing, because it’s only when we acknowledge our finitude…when we face the truth of our own mortality and how much we want to live…that we can begin to address the most important questions of life. Why I am I here? What is my purpose? Is there a God who loves me or cares about me? Is there life beyond this life?

Here is a second question to help you put your house in order: Do you recognize the only lasting Source of help and salvation? After getting the bad news from Isaiah, “Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD...." (2-4). Hezekiah came to the throne at the age of 25 and reigned for 29 years. He was a young man. Later generations remembered him as a gifted leader who began a spiritual reformation in Judah. When the Northern Kingdom was destroyed by Assyria, Hezekiah was served notice by Sennacherib that his kingdom was next. His first instinct was to pray…and seek God’s protection (see 2 Kings 19: 14-19). Hezekiah had faced many trials in his young reign as king…but at the age of 39, he had yet to have a health crisis. When that crisis finally came, his first instinct was again to turn to the LORD for help.

A few weeks ago I asked the members of my congregation to stand if they had ever been given a diagnosis by a doctor that changed their life…if they ever laid down on an operating table and put themselves in the hands of a surgeon…if they had ever had a panic attack, or felt overwhelmed by a crisis to the point of trembling and tears… if they had ever come face to face with their own mortality, their vulnerability or their limitations as a human being. It was standing room only! Friend, you're not alone. Naturally, Hezekiah was afraid; but he turned to the LORD as his Source of help and salvation; and we can too.

One more question: Are you ready to receive the gifts that only God can give?
I'm thinking of the gift of God's word: Before Isaiah left the middle court, we're told that the word of the LORD came to him: "Go back and tell Hezekiah, the leader of my people, 'This is what the LORD...says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears" (4-5). What strikes me about this passage is that God’s answer comes to Hezekiah so quickly, before Isaiah could get out the door. It was, first of all, a word of encouragement. “I have heard your prayer, Hezekiah…and I have seen your tears.” It’s so important for us to know that God is not playing games with us. When we pray…God hears us instantly, sees our hearts, knows our thoughts and our feelings….knows where you are.
There is the gift of resurrection life: Isaiah goes on to say, “On the third day from now you shall go up to the house of the LORD” (5b). Hezekiah was to be healed on the third day…a phrase in biblical history which signifies not only healing…but the gift of life, deliverance, and resurrection hope. On the third day of creation, life appears on the earth for the first time (Genesis 1:11). On the third day, God provided a ram for Abraham’s sacrifice on Mount Moriah, instead of Isaac his son (Genesis 22:4). On the third day after the Israelites left Egypt, God gave to Moses the ten commandments (Exodus 19:11, 16). On the third day Joshua led the people into the Promised Land (Joshua 1:11). And Hosea comforted Israel with these words, “on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him” (Hosea 6:2). Most importantly, it was on the third day that Jesus was raised -- Friday being the day of his crucifixion, and Sunday the day of his resurrection. And if the third day signifies the day of new life, of resurrection – it is a promise…not just to Hezekiah, but to all of God’s people. For “On the third day…we shall go up.” Putting your house in order means putting your trust in the One who rose again on the third day, who is the resurrection and the life.
There is the gift of time: “I will add fifteen years to your life,” says the LORD to Hezekiah (6a). John Grisham, the author of The Firm, Pelican Brief, and The Client has made a concerted effort to focus on things that have lasting meaning, including his faith in God. Grisham remembers, as a young law student, the remarkable advice of a friend who had a terminal illness. "He was 25. I couldn't believe it," writes Grisham. "What do you do when you realize you are about to die?" Grisham asked. "It's real simple," his friend said. "You get things right with God, and you spend as much time with those you love as you can. Then you settle up with everybody else." What a great summary of what it means to “put your house in order.” #1 Get things right with God. #2 Spend as much time as you can with those you love. #3 Settle up with everybody else. That is, get things right with those you have hurt or were hurt by. John Grisham’s friend said this, “You ought to live every day like you have only a few more days to live." Putting your house in order means using the time you’ve been given…wisely.

Finally, there is the gift of God’s healing: “Indeed, I will heal you…." says the LORD, then Isaiah said, 'Prepare a poultice of figs.' They did so and applied it to the boil, and he recovered" (5, 7). Why should we pray for God’s healing? We pray because Jesus commanded it. When we pray for the sick we are simply doing what Jesus did and commanded his disciples to do. We’re carrying on his ministry.
We also pray because doctors recommend it. Medical doctors may not always know why, but a survey conducted by the American Academy of Family Physicians shows that 99% percent of doctors believe a relationship exists between faith and physical healing. By telling us to seek prayer for healing, the Bible does not deny the importance of medical cures. When Isaiah calls for a “lump of figs” to be applied to Hezekiah’s boil, he was employing a common Mediterranean remedy of the day. I take that to mean that we are to both pray, and take our medicine. Sound medical advice is a gift from God, but too often, we take our medicine, and forget to pray, or ignore its importance in the healing process.

Lastly, we pray for healing because experience confirms it. In our own church, we’ve seen emotional, physical, relational, and spiritual conditions improved through healing prayer. Illus. terminal illness, unemployment. But remember that the LORD said to Hezekiah, “I will heal you.” (15). John Wimber used to say, “It’s our responsibility to pray. It’s God’s responsibility to do the healing.” When you pray, and don’t experience healing: (1) Do not despair. (2) persevere in prayer and (2) remember that you already have the most important healing of all, the healing of your soul through Christ, and the gift of eternal life through him.

Dr. Paul Brand, an outstanding medical doctor who co-authored a book with Philip Yancey, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made had this to say at a retirement home dedication. “I remember well when I was at my physical peak. I was 27 years old and had just finished medical school. A group of friends and I were mountain climbing, and we could climb for hours. For some people, when they cross that peak, for them life is over. I remember well my mental peak, too. I was 57 years of age and was performing groundbreaking hand surgery. All of my medical training was coming together in one place. For some people, when they cross this peak, for them life is over. I'm now over 80 years of age. I recently realized I'm approaching another peak - my spiritual peak. All I have sought to become as a person has the opportunity to come together in wisdom, maturity, kindness, love, joy, and peace. And I realize when I cross that peak, for me, life will not be over; it will have just begun. Time does not last forever, and therefore I do not want to waste a single moment of it. If I make good use of it, I will actually have more of it.

Putting your house in order means trusting God to bring you to your peak; to bring order, harmony, and healing, to your house….in whatever way he chooses…and then to bring you to his Father’s house to live with him forever!

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