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When the Bottom Falls Out

Daniel shows us a godly response in the face of great suffering.
This sermon is part of the sermon series "Standing Your Ground". See series.

I remember the events that led to her tears. My wife, Kathy, had come home from a weekly grocery trip with more than groceries to be concerned about. She came into the house holding the lip of a full grocery sack in one hand, balancing a crying baby on the other arm, and urging forward two pre-school sons who were straggling behind. Just as she squeezed through the back door and swung around the kitchen counter, the side of the paper grocery sack ripped. The sack and everything in it crashed to the floor, including a large, economy-size bottle of liquid dish soap. When the soap bottle hit the linoleum, the lid sprang off, the honey-like innards glugged out, and the mess spread across the kitchen floor.

Kathy told me what happened next. She put the crying baby (still crying) into her highchair, she told the two toddlers to stay out of the mess, and she leapt across the puddle of soap to reach the paper towels. Then, as she got down on her knees to sop up the soap, she heard a strange hissing sound coming from the grocery sack. Despite its torn lip, the sack was sitting half upright on the floor where it had crashed. Kathy looked inside to see what was hissing. A two-liter, strawberry soda bottle had ruptured inside the dropped bag. The hissing sound was the escaping soda rapidly filling the bottom of the paper sack. Kathy grabbed the bottle and the few groceries remaining in the grocery sack and threw them in the sink. Then slowly, ever so carefully, she lifted the paper sack with its pool of soda and inched toward the sink. She almost made it. But then the bottom fell out. Carbonated strawberry soda and liquid detergent swirled around her feet. The result? Strawberry suds! The kids loved it; but not mom—not even a little bit.

What do you do when the bottom falls out? If it is a full grocery sack, the remedy is plain enough. You shed a few tears and get out the mop. But what do you do when the bottom falls out of your life—your career, your family's security, your health? What do you do when things just go horribly wrong? Though we don't like to think about it, we all know the unthinkable can happen. Believers are not insulated from life crises; the bottom can fall out for us, too (John 17:15). We live in a fallen world and, like everyone else, may face crippling disappointment and disaster (Matthew 6:34).

A teenage boy enters a hospital in respiratory distress. The doctor suspects the problem is drug related, but the boy's Christian parents can't believe it; they've never known their son to consume anything stronger than strawberry soda. The doctor turns out to be right.

A state school board official, a lay leader in his church, is arrested for shoplifting a bottle of wine. The police report says he took the bottle into the restroom where he finished it off. How could he make such a foolish choice? Later reports tell of job pressures, personal medical problems, family tensions, and a daughter's recently diagnosed brain tumor. The hidden wine binge was just a desperate attempt to escape it all for a while.

A seven-year-old girl is diagnosed as having leukemia. Her father, a believer, has just been laid off from his job.

A wonderful church elder, one of our dearest friends, watched helplessly for a year-and-a-half as his only daughter's marriage disintegrated. Then he lost his job. And then his daughter was killed in an accident caused by a drunk driver.

All of these are real events. All involve real Christians. All remind us that the events of the second chapter of Daniel have a lot to do with today's realities. That's because the bottom fell out for Daniel, just like it did for all the people mentioned above.

Not everything was rosy in Daniel's life—the first chapter of his biography makes that clear. Although he had been born into Israel's nobility, a cruel and idolatrous despot had overrun Daniel's homeland and taken him captive. Still, events had been on the upswing. Because of his background and gifting, Daniel won an appointment to train for the king's service. At the end of that training, he was judged as superior to all of his peers and even ten times wiser than the wise men of Babylon.

We do not know the exact position given to Daniel in the king's service, but the term used to describe his duties is the same used to describe Joseph's duties when he became governor for Pharaoh (Genesis 41:46). With God's help, and without compromising his faithfulness, the young Jewish captive had risen above his circumstances. Everything was going well. Everything was looking up. Then the bottom fell out.

The king had a dream. The dream troubled the king; in fact, it scared him. So he called in his wise men to find out what the dream meant. "Tell us the dream, O King, and we shall interpret it for you," his enchanters and sorcerers said. "Not a chance," the king replied. "If you're so wise and all-knowing as you claim, you tell me what my dream is. Then, when you tell me what it means, I'll know if you really have any insight."

Of course, these counselors could not tell the king what his dream was. Their failure and excuses so angered the king that he ordered all the wise men of the kingdom killed. Don't forget: Daniel was a wise man, too. In fact, he was the wisest (1:20). As a result, the commander of the king's guard went looking for Daniel. In one hand his officer held a sword; in the other, he held an order for Daniel's execution. By any reasonable assessment, the bottom had just fallen out for Daniel. It was all over. After much suffering, Daniel had clawed back to some semblance of a decent life, and in one sword stroke, it would all be over.

In Daniel's response to this collapse of his circumstances, we learn what faithfulness to God looks like when the bottom falls out. What should we do when the bottom falls out? We want to cry in grief, to yell in anger, or simply to collapse. All those responses are understandable. But Daniel's response to crisis helps us engage our Lord's help when the bottom falls out of our own world. Daniels' first spiritual response to his crisis appears in verses 17 and 18: "Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon." The message of these verses is simple: when the bottom fell out, Daniel fell to his knees.

The response of prayer

Daniel responded to crisis with prayer. He secured extra time from the king, but the extra time was not to cook up an escape plan. Daniel immediately gathered those who loved the Lord and urged fervent prayer.

Perhaps it does not strike you as significant that Daniel's first response to crisis was prayer. We tend to think of Daniel as a faith giant, one of those "Bible characters" who's supposed to pray. We should remember, though, that if anybody had a reason to skip prayer—or pursue any number of other first responses—it was Daniel.

Daniel had other options that could seem more practical and productive than prayer. First, since he was ten times wiser than the wisest of Babylon, Daniel could have used his extra time to figure out some solution to his predicament. Smart men apply their minds to the problem when a crisis comes, and Daniel had no shortage of mental ability (1:20; 2:23).

In addition to his intelligence, Daniel had power (2:23). After all, he was in the king's service and apparently already had some governing authority (1:19). Surely the savvy Daniel had learned to manage the politics of the king's court; he had already learned to speak with "prudence and discretion" to the royal authorities (2:14). He knew what to do: play for time, curry some favor, and work the angles. Perhaps others expected him to finagle something with his experience and resources—call in some favors, pull a few strings, twist a few arms.

Daniel had the same options we do in crisis. He could have resorted to his intelligence, his power, or his resources, but instead he turned to God. Daniel chose prayer as his first response.

Prayer is the confession of our need to God. Daniel urged his companions to pray for God's mercy because he knew they did not have the power to undo the king's decree or avoid his consequences (2:18). Daniel's press for prayer was a confession that the young men required a greater power than their own.

Such petition for God's intervention does not require us to become irresponsible about our duties, actions, and plans. But prayer does acknowledge, "Apart from you, Lord, my plans mean nothing. On my own, Lord, I can't fix this. I can't heal the wound, correct the fault, clean up the mess, or put my life back together without you. God, you must take control, if any good is to result. Use me if you will, but you must act or my power, my brains, and my connections will count for nothing. Only you, Lord, are truly able. I depend on you."

When our hearts are committed to such truths, our actions change. We recognize that before we pick up the telephone, call the meeting, create the priority list, or form a crisis management team, we must fall in our knees and ask God's help. He is the only true crisis manager.

Prayer is also and inevitably the confession of our weakness. By reaching toward God, we confess our inability to change our world in our own strength or by our own resources. By their very nature, our prayers are acknowledgements that we cannot provide what we most need. But by praying, we also affirm our conviction that God can help. With prayer we acknowledge our dependence upon God's grace and our trust in his heart. We push ourselves out of the way so that God's ways can be revealed.

We may forget how truly helpless we are apart from God. Our society constantly tells us that our efforts make all the difference. In the business world, in our educational experiences, in judicial cases, in our families, and even in the church, our actions are understood as the root cause for success or failure. So when the bottom falls out of our lives, our reflex reactions are focused on self-supplied solutions. We are so accustomed to depending on our own resources that we neglect seeking God's supply when we need it most.

Jack Miller, one of the most thoughtful pastors of the last century, once included a simple request in a letter to a friend of mine. Jack wrote, "Please pray for my habitual tendency to trust in myself and what I can do." The request reveals the near constant struggle we all have to include God in our lives. If such a great man of God can confess his temptation to depend on himself, then we should all recognize how easily we can fall into similar patterns. In the press to handle everyday problems as well as major crises, we can become so busy, so self-absorbed, so problem-focused, so accustomed to figuring our way out of difficulty, that we forget God's way out: prayer.

Our prayerlessness can be a poignant reminder (an internal barometer of the soul) of how much we really think our God makes a difference in our lives. Daniel indicated how important he believed it was to seek God at all times by making prayer his and his friends' first priority when the king's command created their crisis. Crises are often the means God uses to get our prayer lives back on track.

Recently, a young man sat in my office. He was broke, out of work, and trying to find some direction for his life. According to society's agenda, he should have been traumatized and troubled, but he was smiling. "Bryan," he said, "for two months I've been doing everything possible I know to do to get back on track. I have tried to get a job using every skill I have. I've searched the want ads, hit the bricks, called all my contacts, mailed resumes, and driven a million miles to interviews. Nothing was happening. I was so wound up in job hunting that I didn't realize how spiritually dry I had become. Then I realized that I had not had a conversation with a Christian friend in weeks. My devotional life was zilch. My church attendance was "in and out" as fast as I could manage, so I didn't waste any job hunting time. I needed God more than ever, but I wasn't even giving him any priority in my time and efforts. When I realized how little priority I was giving to God, it was as though I heard him say to me, 'Stop trying to do this your way. Depend on me, and ask my help.' Ever since that moment, I've been praying regularly, and it's hard to fathom the difference it's made. Suddenly, God is opening doors I never dreamed would be open for me. But even more importantly, I realize now that God will provide for my needs, even if all these doors close. For the first time in my life, I know how good it feels to be absolutely confident in God."

We may fear to seek God in time of crisis if we've not sought him regularly before. But we should not let that fear dissuade us from turning to God now. Daniel teaches us that there is never a wrong time to pray. Daniel gathered his friends together for focused prayer after the crisis came. Daniel did not fear to approach God in more fervent prayer when circumstances were more pressing. Crisis can be the very instrument God will use to draw us to greater dependence on him. If the bottom has fallen out, and we have not prayed much before, we should pray now. Anytime is the right time to pray.

The response of praise

The second chapter of the young prophet's life also describes a spiritual activity that should accompany prayer during crisis. This activity is as easily stated as prayer, but it may be even more difficult to imitate. Daniel's second response to crisis is recorded in these verses:

During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven and said: "Praise be to the name of God forever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers: You have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of the king.

In the midst of his crisis, Daniel offers personal praise to God. Daniel opposes pressure with praise.

Oh sure! we may think. When God tells Daniel what the king's dream is, when the crisis is over, then he praises God. It's easy to praise God when you get the answers. Still, before we dismiss Daniel's experience as irrelevant to our own, we should look more carefully at how the answer God gave the prophet affected his situation. Sure, he got the dream's interpretation. But suddenly Daniel found himself facing a second, equally threatening crisis, because he knew what the king's dream meant.

Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed of an enormous, dazzling statue. Its head was made of gold. The chest and arms were of silver; the belly and thighs were bronze; the legs were iron; the feet were iron and clay. In the dream a rock cut without human hands grew large and then struck the statue and pulverized it into dust which the wind swept away. Without any prompting, Daniel related to the king this entire dream. The rub is that Daniel had to also tell the king what the dream meant.

The interpretation Daniel must give to this bloodthirsty king was recorded for us. Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom was to be divided. It was to be replaced by one kingdom after another. Nebuchadnezzar's golden rule in Babylon would be succeeded by the rule of the Medo-Persian empire (a silver era, not quite as lustrous), which would be conquered by Greece (an empire of great strength that would not shine as bright), which would be succeeded by Rome (an empire of iron and clay—stronger, yet made of many different ethnicities who could not hold together). In later chapters of his book, Daniel will be even more specific about the succession of kingdoms, but the immediate message for Nebuchadnezzar is embarrassingly clear: eventually, all this king possessed and had built would be destroyed and scattered like chaff on the wind.

Now we should put ourselves in Daniel's place to consider how difficult his offer of praise must have been. There is a death sentence already on his head. The commander of the king's guard, sword in hand, is at his side, and the young prophet is supposed to tell the ruthless King Nebuchadnezzar that he and all he stands for will soon be as significant as sweat on a flea. Giving this interpretation is not easy or safe.

Far from absolving all Daniel's problems, God's revelation of the king's dream probably placed the prophet in greater danger than the first crisis, when the king had ordered the deaths of all his wise men. Now he stood alone before the deadly king with a message guaranteed to offend. So, it really wasn't so easy for Daniel to praise God in light of what the prophet had to say to Nebuchadnezzar.

There are three reasons Daniel could still praise God. First, although Daniel does not know how everything will work out in the future, there is already evidence of God's care in the present. After all, God has revealed Nebuchadnezzar's dream. No other wise man's god revealed the king's vision. God displayed his greatness and goodness to Daniel in simply letting his prophet see and understand the dream. What the interpretation of the dream would cause to happen in Daniel's life was still hidden, but God's grace already was evident. Daniel praised God for the good he could see, despite the grace that was not yet fully revealed.

The second reason Daniel could praise God was that the young prophet could remember God's goodness in the past. The first chapter of Daniel revealed the faithfulness of God that had preserved Daniel and his friends to that point. God's past faithfulness to this faithful band must have encouraged them to gather together for prayer in this crisis. This is a familiar pattern. God often points us to past provision to grant us reassurance in present difficulties. When Joshua assumed leadership over Israel before the challenges of entering the Promised Land, he reminded the people of God's faithfulness under Moses (Joshua 1). When Peter addressed his countrymen before the challenges of beginning the New Testament church, he reminded them of God's faithfulness to his promises (Acts 2:14-36). And when the church faced persecution, the writer of Hebrews reminded the dispersed people of God's faithfulness amidst suffering generations that had preceded them (Hebrews 11). The past can provide ample reason for praising God, even when the present troubles us. When Daniel offered praise to the "God of my fathers," the prophet was calling upon God's past faithfulness to strengthen present faith. But Daniel was not limited to considering God's past or present provision. He knew another dimension of God's care.

The third reason for Daniel to praise the Lord stemmed from the prophet's understanding of Nebuchadnezzar's dream: it unveiled a future good for which God also deserved praise. The rock that endures forever after breaking in pieces the statue representing successive world kingdoms could be none other than our Rock, Jesus Christ. Through Nebuchadnezzar's dream, God showed Daniel the ultimate triumph of Christ on earth.

To be candid, this revelation did not get rid of the present crisis. Daniel and his people were still in slavery. God's temple was still in ruins. God's prophet was still in jeopardy. Still, God displayed his long-range plans to Daniel. Daniel did not know all that would happen in his immediate situation, but God assured him all things were working toward a grand triumph. So, despite his present danger, there was good in the past, present, and future for which Daniel could praise God.

Likewise, God's goodness displays itself in our past, present, and future. Our lives are filled with reasons to praise God for the good we can see despite the grace not yet fully revealed. One of the most vivid demonstrations of this truth occurred when a young man came to me for pastoral advice.

Richard (not his real name) was a young husband, a new father, and a recent convert. He earned a big salary, but he and his wife lived lavishly. Their financial excesses became a crisis when Richard's job was eliminated.

There had been other losses recently in their lives as well. Through a series of discourtesies just prior to their conversion, Richard and his wife had alienated their closest relatives. The youth ministry the couple had tried to start in their church had also failed.

In every direction Richard looked he saw failure, rejection, and uncertainty. He talked in my office for forty-five minutes "unloading" his frustrations. Hurt, anger, and fear poured out of him. He wondered out loud why God "let me down, after I gave my life to him."

After he finished unloading, Richard sank back into his chair, threw frustrated hands into the air and speaking of his wife said, "I just tell Betty that, regardless of what happens, at least we still have each other and kids we love." The despairing words silenced him. They were meant to accuse God. But in the quiet that followed his complaint, Richard's mind began to replay those last words: "At least we have each other and kids we love."

As he reflected on all he and his wife had been saved from in the past, the meaning and magnitude of the words hit him. He bolted upright in the chair and with a sheepish grin said, "I guess God has been pretty good to us after all." When the bottom was falling out of his life, Richard praised God for the good he could see, despite the grace not yet fully revealed.

Having seen God's goodness to him in the past and having praised God for it, something else happened to Richard. The very act of praising God produced in his heart courage to face the loss of his job. Praise arms God's people to face their foes. Praise so focuses our minds on the greatness of God that our trials are far less intimidating. Trials do not disappear because we praise God, but believers' hearts do not despair when they praise their God.

Perhaps the bottom has fallen out of the life of someone reading these words. You do not know why. You cannot imagine any sensible explanation. It hurts. Maybe the problem is finances, or a family being torn apart, or a loved one suffering an illness—or perhaps you're suffering. How do you face the difficulty? Start by thinking of just one good thing God has put in your life right now. Then praise him for it. Next, remember something good that God has done for you in the past. And praise him for that. Finally, thank the Lord for the fact that he will yet do good things for you. If you can read this, the Lord is not done with you or the witness that you can be to others of his grace. Let the truths of Daniel's life assure you that when praise is in your heart—no matter how deep is the darkness through which you must walk—your hand is in God's hand. He has not departed.

If there is no good we can identify in our lives now (because life can seem so bleak), still we should not give up on the power of praise. The Bible is not asking us to look for a silver lining; it allows us to see God. Daniel praises God "to whom belong wisdom and might" (2:20). This wise and powerful God was also a covenant-keeping God, whose history of faithfulness was the basis for trusting him now.

What Daniel saw as future is, at least in part, already an element of our past. The Rock made without human hands that would crush the powers of this world has been revealed to us as Jesus Christ. Jesus shattered the powers of Satan by taking the penalty for our sins on himself and Calvary. Then our Savior rose in victory over death, showing that he had defeated sin's power. As believers we are forgiven. We need not live under guilt. We are children of the King, and awaiting us is the full flowering of his heavenly kingdom where there shall be no more tears or trails (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17). He holds us in the palm of his hand, and there is nothing that will occur in our lives that God will not work for our ultimate good and his glory (Romans 8:28). This is adequate reason to praise God even when present trials swirl around us. But there is more.

Through Nebuchadnezzar's dream Daniel saw an ultimate and eternal victory of Christ over all the powers and dominions of this world. Christ's final work will not be complete until his kingdom is established in and over this world. Jesus is coming back to reign. All will be subject to his authority. Our trials will not be forever; his rule shall be. Unfairness, injustice, pain, and difficulty will end. All will be put right. For this future we, too, can praise God, even in present hardship. Our present is bearable because Christ's future glory is guaranteed.

The response of proclamation

Because he understands the nature of his Lord, Daniel offered God prayer and praise in a difficult time. Still, Daniel's regard for God had yet to reach its broadest expression. When the bottom seemed to fall out, and Daniel's circumstances remained tough, he still proclaimed the greatness of God. Daniel's response to peril was proclamation. He resisted any temptation to take credit for the amazing insight God granted him. When the king asked Daniel if he could reveal the dream, the prophet—who by now knew the dream and its interpretation—made sure the king knew that God had provided it all. The prophet was careful to ensure that God alone was glorified.

Back when our daughter was just a toddler, I caught her going up the stairs oneday on her own. Normally, she would get scolded for heading up the stairs, but this time she was trying so hard that I didn't have the heart to stop her. I could not let her go alone, however. There was still too much danger. I quietly stepped behind her and stretched my arms inches below her in case she slipped. She was concentrating so much on grabbing the stair rails to pull herself up that she didn't even notice me. Finally, she reached the top of the stairs. You can hardly imagine how proud she looked, as she actually stood at the top of the stairs on shaky and inexperienced legs.

But I had a rather different perspective. I knew that, even if she believed her grip had gotten her safely up the stairs, there were other hands at work. She had no idea how much danger she was really in, or how safe she really was. She was safe in the danger, not because of the grip of her infant hands, but because of the safety provided by arms beneath her.

The Bible says that God is the One who keeps us safe because beneath us are his everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27). We may think that what we have accomplished, or what we are, is a matter of our efforts, arrangements, or abilities—or the work of our hands—but the truth is that other arms have been beneath us. Were it not for those arms beneath our lives, we would long since have fallen from the heights we thought our abilities had enabled us to climb. Pride and self-acclaim disappear when the true source of human achievement is known. If we are anything, it is only because God climbed the heights with us and kept us from falling.

Daniel knew the trust of God's enabling and keeping. These truths erased all reference to self in his speech. The prophet was so conscious of the work of his God that no explanation of the king's dream excluded proclamation of God as the source of revelation. Even when the young prophet wasn't yet sure what the cruel Nebuchadnezzar's response would be, God could not be kept from Daniel's lips. As a result, God could not be kept from Nebuchadnezzar's mind. When Daniel finished interpreting the dream, Nebuchadnezzar not only paid homage to Daniel (because the king didn't fully understand God yet), the king also honored Daniel's God: "Truly your God is the God of gods, and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery" (2:47). Because of Daniel's proclamation, the king knew Daniel's ability was from his God. Nebuchadnezzar recognized that the power of God was an important product of Daniel's proclamation which would have far-reaching spiritual implications for this despot, but there were even more implications of Daniel's proclamation.

The proclamation accompanying Daniel's revelation made the power and presence of the Lord so real that the king would not touch God's prophet. Daniel's interpretation openly degraded the future of Babylon and her king. Yet, instead of ordering Daniel's execution for such an affront, Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before the prophet and praised Daniel's God. The king was so humbled that the rage Daniel expected never came. Nebuchadnezzar bowed to Daniel. The prophet's proclamation itself became an instrument of God used to give perspective to the king and to protect Daniel.

There is never a better time to proclaim God than when the risk seems great, because God assumes control of those causes fought in his name. The powers of this world cannot stand when God is clearly, courageously, and solely proclaimed. By our witness others see the Lord better, and as a consequence, the Lord affects their lives. Whether they turn toward him or away from him, they are still being forced to deal with his testimony through our proclamation.

We can bear almost anything if we only see God at work in our circumstances. Daniel teaches us we may not see God clearly enough to take comfort and strength from our vision until we proclaim him. Proclamation of God clarifies our vision of him. When we learn enough of God to express him before others, we begin to know him well enough to entrust him with our lives. The heart that overflows with knowledge and love of God is never overwhelmed by the circumstances that are already in his hands.

A shift of focus

Prayer, praise, and proclamation are all spiritual responses to crisis that shift attention from our abilities to God's. These responses humble us by making us realize we are ultimately dependent on God's influence rather than our initiative. For when we acknowledge our need is greater than we are, God's supply is more sufficient than we can imagine.

There is always an element of our being that wants to take charge. When the bottom falls out in our lives, we recognize the futility of that attitude. God is the only one who must be given charge of our lives and our difficulties. Not only is he the only one who can handle our circumstances, but he will work in them to lead us closer to himself. Extreme situations often reflect God's extreme desire for us to know his love more fully. He teaches us to lean on him because when we rest upon the One who loves us, we know no greater peace nor can we claim any greater contentment. Dependence upon God produces a joy so full that crisis cannot exhaust its supply.

Knowing these truths, it is sometimes strange to discover how, despite our best intentions, we stop depending on God and resume trusting in ourselves. Shortly after my wife and I left seminary, I became the pastor of an historic church in Illinois. The church was well-established. We had a good income and lived in a nice house. Because of our newfound security, we decided it was time to get our family started. This decision was not as easy for us as it may be for some, because there is some history of birth disorders in my family. As Kathy was expecting our first child, we occasionally winced when friends would say, "What do you want? A boy or a girl?—Oh, it doesn't matter, though, as long as the baby is healthy!" Inside we thought, What if our baby is not healthy? Will our child not be as precious if he is not perfect? Will our baby be worth less because of this prejudice for health? We resolved our child would be worth no less to us regardless of what others might think.

As the time approached for our child to be born, we began to prepare ourselves to love and value our child despite others' attitudes. The birth day finally arrived. Everything looked good. All the test results were good. The vital signs of mother and baby were normal. Then, just minutes before delivery, the monitors began to show the baby was in distress.

When he was born, our son was blue—the result of oxygen deprivation. For some reason, in the last stages of delivery, the baby did not get the oxygen he needed. The doctor tried to get him to breathe, but he would not. The nurses immediately took the baby to special equipment to clear his lungs and air passages. Because this was our first baby, we did not fully understand what was happening. But then I saw one of the nurses look at the clock to begin timing how long our baby was not breathing. Suddenly I realized what was happening. Inside I cried, Oh, Heavenly Father, I thought I had prepared myself for anything, but I have not prepared for my child to die.

What do you do when your baby starts to die? You suddenly realize how helpless you are. You cannot do anything to control what is dearest to you. You see all your abilities, your preparations, and your plans really mean nothing. You are not in control. So what do you do? What can you do but pray? I prayed, "God, help him. God, help us. I'm not sure what we will do, or who we will be, if we lose him. God, please, save him."

God did save our child. Praise him! I can praise God now for his past goodness to our family. There are still the hard times when I'm tempted to think that God is not concerned for us—when grace seems far away and not very clear. But in those times I can look at the face of my son—healthy and whole—and I can praise my God. Still, I recognize that the health of my son is not, and cannot be, the only reason I praise God. Life is long and our extended family still has much yet to face. We face what is to come, however, with a greater understanding of our God because of the nature of our first son's birth. But there is more yet to learn in the provision of a son.


God spared my son, but he did not spare his Son. I only began to see the pain of the death of a son. God knows the pain. When he was in control, my God sacrificed his first Son for a sinner like me—and like you. May God help us all never to lose sight of that great gift so that when the bottom seems to fall out of our lives, we know what to do, whom to trust, and whom to proclaim. When our focus is upon the Cross rather than upon our crisis, our hearts will lead us to the One who purchased our lives with his own. We will pray to the God who loves us. We will praise the God who alone can save us. We will proclaim the God who gave his Son for us. Prayer, praise, and proclamation will grant us peace for today and confidence for tomorrow.

For Your Reflection

Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________

Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________

Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?

Bryan Chapell is the senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois.

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Sermon Outline:


I. The response of prayer

II. The response of praise

III. The response of proclamation

IV. A shift of focus