Editor's note: This is a story of the church at work in the real world under the direction of the Holy Spirit. It is the story of the unlimited grace poured forth at a time of trial for the comforting of the saints.
My family has never experienced a season of God's love like the one we experienced last year! We have expressed our thankfulness, in Christ, for all of our fellow saints and the way in which the Holy Spirit has enabled my family and me to be blessed. But there is more to this story: the sharing, from the receiver's perspective, so that all may see what the "waterfall of grace" can mean to the church at large. So that is part of my purposeto be sure that you are not left outside the work of grace that we have experienced as a waterfall flowing down upon us. And each believer has a distinct part in this outpouring of blessing.
If you stand under a water hose, you receive a modest amount of waterperhaps enough to catch in a small bowl. If you stand under several hoses, or in a large shower, you might need a bucket to catch all the water. In a rainstorm, you might need large barrels to catch all the water coming off the roof of your house. But how could you catch all the water if you were to stand under a waterfall, such as Niagara Falls? This is the picture we mean to convey when we speak of a waterfall of graceso much grace that it overflows and continues to pour without measure!
My purpose in showing you your part in this blessing is to act as a reflectorworking in the same way as a mirror, or in the way the moon's light "shines" at night. I hope to show you the collective effect of this blessing, so you may know the joy that we have felt, and be encouraged by the work of the Holy Spirit in your midst! I want to encourage you to seek to engage in such an extension of blessing in your own congregations.
By way of summary, my medical diagnosis began with stomach upset in May and June. I was advised to have my gall bladder removed. During the operation, my surgeon found a cancerous tumor surrounding the bile duct and blood supply to the liver, very close to the base of the liver, and it was originally thought to be inoperable. But God blessed us with a contact at the Mayo Clinic, the same surgeon who had saved my wife's life eight years before! After preliminary tests, he operated and successfully removed the tumor mass, thus paving the way for radiation and chemotherapy treatments that would hopefully destroy any remaining cancer cells. When we say "hopefully," we mean that we are entrusting this matter to the Lord.
Cancer is a death-delivering disease. It is very difficult to find, to prevent, and in many cases to cure completely from the medical perspective. Our family's experience of a waterfall of grace included the shock of hearing all of this suddenly, reflecting on the brevity of life, and learning to walk more by faith than by sight.
Each member of our local congregation, as they heard the news, shuddered with the same thoughts and fears that our family felt. And yet, the Lord was exceedingly gracious as he raised up the entire congregation together, as one voice, not only in prayer, but also in personal testimony, until the outpouring was so great that it resembled a waterfallan overflowing of God's grace.
We could not begin to relate each individual experience or visit, even though each case of outpouring love was so precious to us. Young people who are now grown came to me with testimonies of love from years ago. Families that were broken in the past, and now are healed, brought thanks for loving care. One person without a father expressed thankfulness for personal help and wisdom. Families that were once part of our church family called in or wrote down their testimonies of love from far away. And not the least of all was the encouragement of a faithfully ministering pastor. Every member of my family was covered by this waterfall. No one will ever know how much we have been blessed by it all.
It continued through the stay at the local hospital, then at home for weeks, and then for the tests and the surgery at the Mayo Clinic. God brought many forward from years past, and even provided for our needs through dear friends at a PCA church in Rochester, Minnesota. It was the very church that Francis Schaeffer and his wife attended throughout his illness and until his death, providing a blessed ministry to the Mayo Clinic.
Someone might say, "Certainly you would expect your beloved friends in the Lord to do what they did." Yes, that is true, but what happened went beyond any simple explanationit was an outpouring of grace by the Holy Spirit, using all of God's people. God provided a "lifting up" for all of our family by their oneness in love. This was the church at work as prescribed in Scripture!
The Scripture that comes to mind is the first chapter of Philippians, which has a direct bearing on the outpouring of our support. We read of:
Even though Paul was in prison, writing "in chains," he rejoiced in the support given to him by the Philippian Christians. They had shared completely with him, and he was overcome with love for them. Indeed, each time he prayed, they came to mind. He loved them so much and remembered them fondly (vss. 3-8).
Paul's words describe how we feel about our family's fellow saints who have comforted us! My medical situation is difficult at bestcancer is often a fatal disease. It is not easy to say that each of us will die, and this is especially so for one in whose body cancer rages unchecked. Even as Paul goes on to talk about the outcome of his trial, we must say that we do not know the final outcome of the surgery or radiation treatmentsit is in the Lord's hands. The assembly of God's people have "shared" in our family's suffering, and we, like Paul, can say that "we have you in our heart."
Paul sees the testimony of their belief being worked out in a pattern that produces "fruit of righteousness." He prays that their "knowledge and depth of insight" (their understanding) will lead to discernment of what is good, pure, and blameless, and that they will be filled with "fruit" (vss. 9-11).
Our family has seen this fruit in our brothers and sisters during this experience. This is not something to boast about (as Paul is to write further), but it is an occasion for rejoicing. How many times can you point to a united effort in which the Holy Spirit has joined hearts in such an experience as this? The expression of our faith in sincere openness and with no offense to Christ is what produces this fruitfulness. At times, in the congregations to which we have belonged, we may have seen contentious spirits, but here we see the Holy Spirit at work, uniting us together. We see the testimony of God's blessing on the teaching, preaching, and shepherding work carried out in those congregations.
This outworking of grace advances the gospel. Rather than just making everybody sad, his suffering (and the partnership of suffering entered into by the Philippian believers), he assures them, brings great rejoicing! The gospel is advanced in every way. The whole palace guard knows why Paul is there! Other believers are speaking up! Whether for spite or for love, the gospel goes forward (vss. 12-18a)!
Paul can't decide which way to exalt Christto die and be with the Lord, or to remain in order to continue to serve, making the Philippians' joy "overflow" (vss. 18b"26)! He says that whatever happens, they are to continue in a manner worthy of the gospel, standing firm and "contending as one man" (vs. 27). Paul is confident that as they have been part of his suffering, they will continue to be part of itand that they will not be afraid of the opposition (vss. 28-30).
Oh, that we may have this said of usthat we will advance the gospel, helping many to learn about Christ and leading them to the feet of the Savior for salvation, and that we will bear his likeness more and more, drawing closer to him and gaining greater assurance in our walk!
May God richly increase the measure of his Spirit in our midst. Amen.
Mr. Waggoner is an elder at Matthews OPC in Matthews, N.C. (near Charlotte). Reprinted from New Horizons, April 1997.