Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

June 24, 2012


What I learned while flat on my back in a Virginia hospital


            I have never agreed with the idea that “God put me flat on my back so I would have to look up.” God would have to be capricious to do that and the God I find in the Bible does not act impulsively as human beings do.

            God as I understand him does allow bad things to happen to people. But he does not arrange trouble for people to get their attention. It does happen that in the midst of calamity God often gets our attention. Many of us do “look up” or reach out to God when trouble gets the best of us. So in that sense misfortune can be a good thing; it can remind us that we need God.

            Much of our suffering is the result of willfully disobeying God. He tells us how to live and we choose to live like we please. Disobedience leads to misery and we find ourselves flat on our back with no place to look but up.

            I love the Book of Jeremiah for this very reason. The weeping prophet tells his people, the Israelites, that their suffering is the consequence of their sin. They had broken the covenant God made with them. So, the prophet declares, God’s justice will be served. The people will be punished. Sadness will be their food night and day.

            But that is not the end of the story! There is hope for your future, Jeremiah tells the people, because God in his mercy is going to bring the exiles back to Jerusalem. The Holy City will be restored.

            When God does this, Jeremiah says, he will make a new covenant with his people, bringing together the northern and southern kingdoms and making them one again. The new covenant will not be a covenant of laws and rituals; it will be a covenant of the heart.

            The new covenant will demonstrate God’s great mercy. He will forgive the sins of his rebellious children and he “will remember their sin no more.”  When you read that, did it sink in? That is a staggering thought – the God we have offended will forget our sins! Highlight that in your Bible! Never forget it! God loves us so much that he will not only forgive us; he will forget about our sin! He will wipe the slate clean! Glory! What a promise!

            When I reflect on what Jeremiah said, I feel like falling to my knees. This was a magnificent moment in history! God gave Jeremiah a glimpse of the future, allowing him to see that day when the blood of Jesus would become the only blood that need be shed for the forgiveness of sins!

            Can you remember a time when you saw little hope for your future? A time when you were caught in the web of your own sinfulness and wondered if God really cared about you?

            I can remember such a time in my own life. I had pushed myself relentlessly, trying to do ministry in my own strength. I had relied on my own ingenuity. I had neglected my family to further my own selfish ambitions. Then, flat on my back in a Virginia hospital, I was told I that I had almost died from a bleeding ulcer. Weeping and helpless, flat on my back, I looked up to God for help. In my own eyes my future was cloudy and uncertain.

            During that time I turned tearfully to the Bible, pleading with God for help. He led me to read the 31st chapter of Jeremiah, one of the most powerful passages in the Bible. I can still remember how deeply God stirred my soul as I read:

            “Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,” declares the Lord. “They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your future,” declares the Lord. “Your children will return to their own land.” (Verses 16 & 17)

            What God told Jeremiah long ago, he told me that morning! My despair was lifted! Hope came into my heart like a rushing wind! I was soon made well and able to resume my ministry.

            What is more, during all the years since that divine moment, God has been keeping His promises to me – not because of my worthiness but because he is faithful. My gratitude for his mercy remains the constant cry of my heart. In that hospital in Fairfax, Virginia, flat on my back, I looked up and learned from a loving, forgiving God that there was hope for my future. And that hope, I believe with all my heart, is available still to all who will look up and call upon His Name!  +  +  +