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Gaining an Eternal Perspective
This may be one of the more unusual devotionals you'll ever read. Most of those we've enjoyed are intended to give an uplifting thought for the day or provide a brief, inspiring story suitable to start the morning. We're grateful for such books and we have benefited from many of them.
But what do you read when things aren't going so well in your life and you don't want to hear yet another happily-ever-after ending? What do you pick up when you need to hear the truth about life in a fallen world and about how to get through it intact? Where do you turn when you need a rock-solid word from God about dealing with the disappointments and adversities of life?
Jan and I first started asking those questions about a decade ago when I was a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. In 1988 I was at the height of my professional baseball career when a tumor was discovered in my left arm (my pitching arm). The tumor and half of my deltoid muscle were removed quickly and doctors told me that, barring a miracle, I would never pitch again. But on August 10, 1989, that 'miracle' occurred and I pitched in a 4--3 win against the Cincinnati Reds. Just five days later, however, while pitching to Tim Raines of the Montreal Expos, my arm snapped in mid-pitch and we discovered that the cancer had returned. I never pitched again. Two major surgeries and a battery of radiation treatments later, doctors amputated my left arm and left shoulder. It was June 18, 1991.
The loss of my baseball career and left arm was bad enough, but neither Jan nor I was prepared for the fear, doubt, anger, confusion, and deep anxiety that both accompanied and followed my medical battle. Jan descended into a dark depression that almost consumed her. I was not much better off. And yet both of us were Christians. How could this be happening to us? What had we done to deserve this? Where was God in all of our trials?
Eventually, with the help of family, friends, health professionals, and spiritual counselors, we began to emerge from the darkness and sought ways to help others who found themselves walking through the lonely valley we had just traveled. In August 1991 we founded Dave Dravecky's Outreach of Hope, an organization devoted to providing hope and encouragement through the gospel of Jesus Christ to those suffering from cancer and amputation. These days we send out hundreds of care packages and make thousands of phone calls each month to people in pain. We are always on the lookout for helpful materials to send to these dear friends, but we were never able to find a book that would offer bite-sized nuggets from God's Word designed to help readers cope with their suffering by focusing their attention on the eternal hope of the gospel.
This book is our humble attempt to help meet that need. Our aim is to point readers to an eternal perspective rooted in God's faithfulness as proclaimed in his Word. We want to help others discover, as we did, that our Father is not only a God of the mountaintop but also Lord of the valley (see 1 Kings 20:26--30). To be honest, we are tired of taking calls from people devastated by 'friends' who have told them they are suffering or loved ones have died because they lack faith or because they (or even an ancestor!) have grievously sinned. Should the message of the gospel cause someone in pain to feel worse? We categorically reject that notion. This book is our effort to say that while suffering and pain are a real and ongoing part of life in this fallen world, they will not have the final word. God has not promised to exempt believers from hardship and affliction, but he has pledged to redeem all of their pain and suffering and to reward their faithful endurance with pleasures at his right hand forevermore.
A passage that has loomed large in our understanding of this truth is 2 Cor. 4:16--18, which declares:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
I quoted this passage at the conclusion of my previous two books, When You Can't Come Back and The Worth of a Man. This encouraging text tells me that although I should expect to suffer in this world, I don't have to lose heart. It insists that if I will only focus on the promised glories to come, I can not only endure my present pain but, day by day, I can be renewed within.
These words of the apostle Paul have been so crucial for Jan and me that we decided to use them as the framework for the book you hold in your hands. Each of the seven sections in this devotional are focused on one part of this text, on one component of its encouraging message. As you walk through the following pages with us, you will see that its landscape changes from rolling hills to deep valleys to soaring mountaintops. As we said, our God is a God of the valleys as well as the mountains; that truth is reflected in the readings to come. We have tried hard to speak the truth without flinching, yet always to fix our eyes and our hopes on the never-changing goodness and faithfulness of almighty God.
We suggest that you chew on each reading before moving on to the next. Don't try to read everything at once; pause regularly to allow the truths of God's Word to penetrate your soul and invigorate your spirit.
Our message throughout is the same: Do not lose heart! If we can help at least one struggling child of God to find hope and encouragement in the midst of difficult circumstances, we will have considered our labors well spent.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.