It is outside of my norm to share in my blog a chapter from someone else’s book, but I was encouraged by this. And I hope you find encouragement as well.
Heather Sample suspected trouble the moment she saw the cut on her father’s hand. The two sat down for a quick lunch between surgical procedures. Heather spotted the wound and asked him about it. When Kyle explained that the injury had happened during an operation, a wave of nausea swept over her.
Both were doctors. Both knew the risk. Both understood the danger of treating AIDS patients in Zimbabwe. And now their fears were realized.
Kyle Sheets was a twelve-year veteran of medical mission trips. I knew Kyle when I was a college student. He married a delightful girl named Bernita and settled down in a small Texas town to raise a family and treat the needy. Turns out, they raised a family that treats the needy. Ten children in all. Each involved in works of compassion. As founder and chairman of Physicians Aiding Physicians Abroad, Kyle spent several weeks a year working in mission hospitals in developing countries. This trip to Zimbabwe was not his first.
Exposure to the AIDS virus was.
Heather urged her father to immediately begin the antiretroviral treatment in order to prevent HIV infection. Kyle was reluctant. He knew the side effects. Each was life threatening. Still, Heather insisted, and he consented. Within hours he was violently ill.
Nausea, fever, and weakness were only the initial signs that something was terribly wrong. For ten days Kyle continued to worsen. Then he broke out in the unmistakable rash of Stevens-Johnson syndrome, which is almost always fatal. They moved up their departure time as they began to wonder if Kyle would survive the forty-hour trip, which included a twelve-hour layover in South Africa and a seventeen-hour flight to Atlanta.
Kyle boarded the transoceanic plane with a 104.5 fever. He shook with chills. By this time he was having trouble breathing and was unable to sit up. Incoherent. Eyes yellowed. Liver enlarged and painful. Both doctors recognized the symptoms of acute liver failure. Heather felt the full weight of her father’s life on her shoulders.
Heather explained the situation to the pilots and convinced them that her father’s best hope was the fastest flight possible to the United States. Having only a stethoscope and a vial of epinephrine, she took her seat next to his and wondered how she would pull his body into the aisle to do CPR if his heart stopped.
Several minutes into the flight Kyle drifted off to sleep. Heather crawled over him and made it to the bathroom in time to vomit the water she had just drunk. She slumped on the floor in a fetal position, wept, and prayed, I need help.
Heather doesn’t remember how long she prayed, but it was long enough for a concerned passenger to knock on the door. She opened it to see four men standing in the galley. One asked if she was okay. Heather assured him that she was fine and told him that she was a doctor. His face brightened as he explained that he and his three friends were physicians too. “And so are ninety-six other passengers!” he said. One hundred physicians from Mexico were on the flight.
Heather explained the situation and asked for their help and prayers. They gave both. They alerted a colleague who was a top-tier infectious disease doctor. Together they evaluated Kyle’s condition and agreed that nothing else could be done.
They offered to watch him so she could rest. She did. When she awoke, Kyle was standing and talking to one of the doctors. Though still ICU-level sick, he was much stronger. Heather began to recognize God’s hand at work. He had placed them on exactly the right plane with exactly the right people. God had met their need with grace.
He’ll meet yours as well. Perhaps your journey is difficult. You are Heather on the flight, watching a loved one struggle. Or you are Dr. Kyle Sheets, feeling the rage of disease and death in your body. You are fearful and weak, but you are not alone. The words of “Amazing Grace” are yours. Though written around 1773, they bring hope like today’s sunrise. “’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” You have His Spirit within you. Heavenly hosts above you. Jesus Christ interceding for you. You have God’s sufficient grace to sustain you.
Paul’s life underscored this truth. He wrote, “There was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9 NIV).
A thorn in the flesh. Such vivid imagery. The shard end of a thorn pierces the soft skin of life and lodges beneath the surface. Every step is a reminder of the thorn in the flesh.
The cancer in the body.
The sorrow in the heart.
The child in the rehab center.
The red ink on the ledger.
The felony on the record.
The craving for whiskey in the middle of the day.
The tears in the middle of the night.
The thorn in the flesh.
“Take it away,” you’ve pleaded. Not once, twice, or even three times. You’ve outprayed Paul. He prayed a sprint; you’ve prayed the Boston Marathon. And you’re about to hit the wall at mile nineteen. The wound radiates pain, and you see no sign of tweezers coming from heaven. But what you hear is this: “My grace is sufficient for you.”
Grace takes on an added dimension here. Paul is referring to sustaining grace. Saving grace saves us from our sins. Sustaining grace meets us at our point of need and equips us with courage, wisdom, and strength. It surprises us in the middle of our personal transatlantic flights with ample resources of faith. Sustaining grace promises not the absence of struggle but the presence of God.
And according to Paul, God has sufficient sustaining grace to meet every single challenge of our lives. Sufficient. We fear its antonym: insufficient. We’ve written checks only to see the words insufficient funds. Will we offer prayers only to discover insufficient strength? Never.
Plunge a sponge into Lake Erie. Did you absorb every drop? Take a deep breath. Did you suck the oxygen out of the atmosphere? Pluck a pine needle from a tree in Yosemite. Did you deplete the forest of foliage? Watch an ocean wave crash against the beach. Will there never be another one?
Of course there will. No sooner will one wave crash into the sand than another appears. Then another, then another. This is a picture of God’s sufficient grace. Grace is simply another word for God’s tumbling, rumbling reservoir of strength and protection. It comes at us not occasionally or miserly but constantly and aggressively, wave upon wave. We’ve barely regained our balance from one breaker, and the, bam, here comes another.
“Grace upon grace” (John 1:16 NASB). We dare hang our hat and stake our hope on the gladdest news of all: if God permits the challenge, He will provide the grace to meet it.
We never exhaust His supply. “Stop asking so much! My grace reservoir is running dry.” Heaven knows no such words. God has enough grace to solve every dilemma you face, wipe every tear you cry, and answer every question you ask.
Would we expect anything less from God? Send His Son to die for us and not send His power to sustain us? Paul found such logic impossible: “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 NIV).
Take all your anxieties to Calvary, Paul urged. Stand in the shadow of God’s crucified Son. Now pose your questions. Is Jesus on my side? Look at the wound in His. Will He stay with me? Having given the supreme and costliest gift, “how can He fail to lavish upon us all He has to give?” (Rom. 8:32 NEB).
“’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” When John Newton penned this promise, he did so out of personal experience. His greatest test came the day he buried his wife, Mary. He had loved her dearly and prayed his death would precede hers. But his prayer was not answered.
Yet God’s grace proved sufficient. On the day she died Newton found strength to preach a Sunday sermon. The next day he visited church members, and later he officiated at his wife’s funeral. He grieved but in his grief found God’s provision. He later wrote, “The Bank of England is too poor to compensate for such a loss as mine. But the Lord, the all-sufficient God, speaks, and it is done. Let those who know Him, and trust Him, be of good courage. He can give them strength according to their day. He can increase their strength as their trials increase…and what He can do He has promised that He will do.”
Let God’s grace dethrone your fears. Anxiety still comes, for certain. The globe still heats up; wars still flare up; the economy acts up. Disease, calamity, and trouble populate your world. But they don’t control it! Grace does. God has embedded your plane with a fleet of angels to meet your needs in His way at the right time.
My friend Kyle recovered from the reaction, and tests show no trace of HIV. He and Heather resumed their practices with renewd convictions of God’s protection. When I asked Kyle about the experience, he reflected that on three different occasions he has heard an airline attendant ask, “Is there a doctor on board?” In each instance Kyle was the only physician on the flight.
“As Heather wheeled me onto the plane, I wondered if anyone would be on board to help us.” God, he soon discovered, answered his prayer a hundred times over, literally.
(Excerpt from Max Lucado’s Grace. Chapter 8: Fear Dethroned)