In the early morning hours of Sunday, January 8, 2017, a church in Juniata County, Pennsylvania (the area where I grew up) caught fire. When I scrolled through the pictures I choked up. The enormity of the situation is shocking, as the damage is horrendous. Though it was not the church I attended regularly, I knew many who did. It was also the church that held my dad’s funeral services. This is especially sad for me as it threatens to shake loose the memories of seeing my dad for the last time and saying goodbye as we closed his casket.
But, for those who attended this church, it is far more tragic.
This was their place of worship. It was the building where believers came together to praise and glorify God. Within its walls, it held countless special events and was eyewitness to priceless memories. A place where the church family shared their hearts and, above all, shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We all experience loss. Loss of loved ones, a job, cherished items, friendships, positions or roles, physical strength and ability, businesses and homes… This is the result of sin. Sin invites destruction and breakdown as it calls out to all without discrimination.
It’s easy to allow a tremendous loss to cloud or even change our view of God. Emotions and feelings can threaten to shake our faith. We start focusing on the immensity of the loss or impossibility of the situation instead of the power of God, and even His purpose in it. Our view of God changes, but not because our situation has become too great for Him. When our perspective focuses back on God’s attributes, the situation looks different. It’s all in what we see. Out of the most tragic, grim, sorrowful circumstance, God is undoubtedly able to rebuild, restore and reestablish. And in the process, He will be glorified.
This church family may never again worship in that same church, but more importantly they need to stand by each other as a unified body of Christ while seeking God’s will for their future. The loss of a loved one is incredibly difficult – and you cannot get them back – but hearts can be restored and, in time, mended. There is comfort and peace to be had even through sorrow. No matter how hopeless it may feel, God will again make it beautiful…in His time. God can make beauty from even the ashes.
We will never cease to feel sorry for ourselves or maybe even a little angry or bitter, but when we do tread those deep waters it’s essential we don’t allow ourselves to drown in them…because we will drown in them. When we fall into those waters we immediately surrender and place our focus back on God.
If we do lose hope, we don’t tarry on without it. If we are angry, we address it and ask God to change our hearts. God’s Word is full of reminders of hope. And through that godly perspective, God will use us. God will use the tragedy and heartbreak.
On one of the pictures of the fire I saw a cross formed by some debris. I couldn’t help but smile. It’s our choice to see God through this – through any tragedy – no matter how little or great it is.
Someone shared this with me recently:
We look at a tapestry on the wall. It’s kind of ugly. And looks like a complete disaster. It doesn’t make any sense. We struggle so hard to understand what it all means. “God, please, show me what this is. It doesn’t make any sense,” we pray desperately. “You only see one side of it,” He reminds us. In the end, when we see both sides of the tapestry, we will see His perfect and beautiful plan and purpose for all things, even the most tragic and sorrowful.
I Thessalonians 5:16-18
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.