Now that I am 77 years old, I think it is safe to say that my lifelong belief that I would die young was an illusion. When I was 15 I knew I wouldn't reach 20. When I was 20 I knew I wouldn't make it to 25, and so on. Some might think it was a morbid illusion, but the idea that I didn't have very long to live always pushed me to take advantage of as many opportunities as I could.
Well, I missed my opportunity to die young. I've even missed the opportunity to die semi-old, though I've had some close calls. But in February of 2007 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer that had metastasized to the bones. So, unless God intervenes, my latest illness is terminal.
I may or may not be here next year, but in any case, this illness has become an occasion for me to seek out opportunities. Maybe you are facing illness or adversity and are looking for similar opportunities. Here is a bit of what I'm learning.
Adversity is an opportunity to gain perspective.
Do you remember being a kid on a road trip, continually asking, Are we there yet?" or, "Are we almost there?" Maybe later on you found yourself on the receiving end of such questions, which are almost always asked with impetuous impatience.
We need perspective, not only at beginnings, but also at the end of things, as well as in-between, so that we might patiently understand the rate of travel. Adversity has us asking questions to help us determine what is ahead, and what we should do about it. Adversity points out where we have been, and challenges us to realize where we are at.
When God asked Adam, "Where are you?" it was not because the Almighty Creator had failing sight or suddenly forgot the geography of the Garden of Eden. No, He was asking Adam to take stock and gain perspective regarding his spiritual condition. In the face of adversity, be it physical or spiritual, God asks us where we are—not because He doesn't know, but because He wants us to gain perspective, to see if we are where we should be.
Adversity is an opportunity to appreciate all we've been given, as well as the Giver.
I, for one, was certainly dealt a better life than I feel I deserved. I've had a lot of goodness, a little pain—until now, when the pain is not so little—as well as a lot of joy and a little regret. I can truly say to God, "Giving myself to You was the best deal I ever got. The life that You've given me in return has been bountiful and beautiful." But it's important for me not to focus my attention merely on the quality of life I've received, but on the Giver of life who loved and gave Himself for me. Remembering His goodness in the midst of suffering makes it easier to look forward to the goodness that awaits and lasts forever, far beyond the reach of sickness and suffering. But in the meanwhile . . .
Adversity is an opportunity to enter into suffering with Christ.
Jesus didn't suffer less because of His perfection. He endured more pain than anything that is expected of me or you. Satan's weapon of pain is almost, but not quite, devastating. But we can endure the burden of agony by folding our soul into Him who endured and overcame. Pain rips us open and we find that we can accept the entry of others into our lives with new openness and vulnerability.
Adversity is an opportunity to seek reconciliation.
I always knew that the Lord expected me to seek reconciliation with some people "sooner or later." But since "later" might come soon, I'd better move now. As I pack my spiritual baggage for this journey, I don't regret much that I have done, but I do regret much that I have not done. So I have been calling and writing to people whom I've neglected.
Adversity is an occasion to tell and receive blunt truths.
I've also put off dealing with some people because in order to be righteous, I need to be blunt. For example, a Christian friend borrowed money from me. I don't ordinarily lend money; I would rather simply give it, because I hate to be put in a position of being my own collection agency. But this person would not allow me to give the money, so with much reassurance of repayment, I loaned it—and have not been repaid. Now I need to tell my friend bluntly to either pay back the loan, or else accept my forgiveness for keeping the money that I wanted to give in the first place.
This is also a time for me to hear blunt words from others who encounter some of my difficult ways. I recently had a small quarrel with a good friend, just because I insisted on picking up the check for a meal. I've got to admit, it was pride that led me to insist on picking up the check. I didn't think of my friend's feelings, or how I ought to defer when others would also like to be generous. Which brings me to the next opportunity.
Adversity is an opportunity to show love.
It's not just a matter of saying, "I love you," or sending a cardboard greeting card in February. We can do many things to demonstrate our affection. I have been avoiding one friend who asked me to read a manuscript. Up until very recently, I've not been able to read because of a cataract. But I recently had such a successful surgery that now I can enjoy reading more than ever. Still, it takes time and concentration, both of which I have in limited supply. But I know the loving thing is to read and comment on at least the first couple of chapters of my friend's book. Who knows? Once I start, I might read it all the way through. That's one way I can show love.
As lovers of Y'shua, we should be giving ourselves to one another. Maybe some young people I know might need a grandfather in their lives. At 77, I've had some experience at that and can give myself to others that way. And while traveling down the streets in my power wheelchair, I like to give smiles to whoever I see.
Sharing resources is another way to show love. I enjoyed making out my will. Yes, my wife gets most of it, though "it" is far less than it was this time last year. But making a will was an occasion for me to remember people and institutions I love and want to support. Even if you don't have much, pretend like you have a million dollars. Sit down and ask yourself how you can provide for those who depend on you, and what you have to give to those you love.
Adversity is an opportunity to strengthen the character of our souls through spiritual exercises.
I'm constantly finding something in the Bible that I didn't see before. (Or maybe I saw it before and recently forgot it because of the pain medication!) It is good to continue discovering things in God's Word. I've also found that I'm enjoying prayer more than ever. Which brings me to the next opportunity.
Adversity is an opportunity to confer blessings on others.
If we have been blessed of God, and God has given us much, like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we can transmit that blessing to others. I've invited certain Christians to bring their children to me to be blessed, but the blessing is not restricted to children.
Mark Levitt is the son of one of my closest friends, Zola Levitt, who went to be with the Lord in 2006. Mark was left with the full responsibility of carrying on Zola's ministry. I wanted to bless him as the leader of that ministry, recognizing him as God's choice for the task. And so I anointed Mark as a symbolic recognition that he is the head of Zola Levitt Ministries, and David Brickner joined me.
Adversity is an opportunity to be a witness.
This is the most important opportunity of all. If you want to pray for me, pray that my death might correspond to my life. Throughout years of ministry, God directed me and gave me enough courage to attempt difficult things; He gave me the strength to be an overcomer. He took Jews for Jesus from being a small group with a curious slogan and made us into an international witness to Jewish people everywhere. I marvel at what God has done; it has meant so much to me to be part of it. Now, I hope for the courage to die in a way that will put the seal on the meaning of my life.
The other day my wife told me, "Don't dig your grave before you're ready to lie down in it!" So even though I am getting ready, I'm not going to resign from life. Please don't mourn me before I'm gone. But I would appreciate your prayers, as I take to heart a verse that applies to the young and healthy, as well as to the old and infirm. That is, "So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12).