Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Anniversary of Your Death

This Memorial Day weekend is a time when many of us stop to reflect on those who sacrificed their lives in service of our country and in support of freedom. My two grandfathers fought in WWII. My father served in Vietnam. Most recently, my brother served in Iraq.

Like many other Americans, my family has a rich military heritage full of real-life war stories not found in history books. Some stories are of comrades who were severely wounded or who died in battle, yet whose names hold no significance to most Americans.

Consider this history lesson on God’s sovereignty from a fascinating collection entitled Under God: On July 9, 1755, the French and Indian War was raging in a fight over American soil. As the battle progressed, the American Indians picked off one red-coated British officer after another until only one lieutenant colonel remained mounted high on horseback. Although Indian sharpshooters fired thirteen rounds of ammunition at him and shot two horses out from beneath him, this officer remained uninjured. That evening, he found four holes where bullets had pierced his coat yet had miraculously disappeared before piercing his body.

Several days after the battle in a letter to his brother, the officer wrote, “But by the all-powerful dispensations of Providence I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me yet escaped unhurt, although death was leveling my companions on every side of me!”

 This officer went on to become our first president, George Washington (Mac and Tait, 2004).

Even though war, danger, and death are synonymous in many minds as we remember the fallen heroes of our country, no one is promised another moment beyond this one.

It is something we must accept by faith even if we can't wrap our finite minds around the concept.  Still, Scripture is clear that life and death are ordained by God. Our days were already numbered before we were born, and no man, no bullet, no bomb, no “accident” can shorten the days God has allotted each of us.

The psalmist David penned, “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb….Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them” (Psalm 139:13,16).

 In other words, as the poet W.S. Merwin once penned, every year, we pass the anniversary of our death without even realizing it. God intends to comfort us with the knowledge that a person’s death is not a random accident but that He carefully orchestrates it. We may not know the day or hour, but God already does. Your conception, your birth, your death are all on God’s calendar.

So many people are precious to us—parents, spouses, children, extended family, friends—all of whom we would likely choose to keep close by our side until we personally crossed over into eternity. Because we love them so much, each one of us could choose daily to live in fear of their death.

Recently, a woman recounted to my mother that her son was finally back from his one-year tour in Iraq, calling it the “worst year of her life.” My mom said she couldn’t relate. While she was concerned about and prayed for my brother’s safety in Iraq, she lived life without the daily, incapacitating worry. She trusted in Jesus’ words: “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:27).

Many of us still have family and friends who are serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries around the globe. This week, I ask you to continue to pray for them. Write to tell them of your love and support. Send a care package. But leave the worrying to God.

As Christians, we must rest in God’s sovereignty, in his ultimate control over everything, including life and death. The safest place for us to be is in the center of God’s will…even if that means being, like George Washington, in the center of a battlefield.

Image: Lithograph of "George Washington's Prayer at Valley Forge." It has been reported that during the darkest days at Valley Forge, George Washington could be found kneeling in earnest prayer for the near hopeless condition of the beleaguered Continental Army. This lithograph captures such a moment.

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