“In the crushing – in the pressing, you are making new wine.”
It was during a Sunday service in 2003 or maybe 2004 when we first heard our pastor lift a teenage girl in prayer. Her name was Crystal. She’d been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. We became acquainted with her over the next decade as she frequented the same circle of believers. Much to her chagrin she always ended up the center of attention. I remember wondering if she felt like cancer had become her identity as people faithfully and fervently prayed for healing. While there were significant periods of remission, the cancer always returned.
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Rom 8:5-6
If there was one thing about Crystal that stood out most, it was a profound, almost palpable peace that seemed to envelop her. When I last saw her she was having horrific seizures several times a day. Yet, we never would have known it if she hadn’t told us herself. Maybe it was my imagination but her eyes only seemed to grow brighter as her life drew to a close. I remember the hospital room being filled with “persistent widows” praying for the miracle healing they just knew had to come. Ironically, Crystal was far more concerned with comforting them. There was something she wanted to share. Could it be that healing for the sake of healing alone is never the point, that there are deeper things, bigger things than mere physical health? But she was slow to speak and soft-spoken when she did. No one could hear her amidst the desperate invocations of the miraculous before visiting hours ended. I’m not being sarcastic. Surrendering to life’s end is hard for all involved even though the same natural end awaits us all. Very few truly embrace what the Bible says about this. I worked in nursing when I was young and used to care for the dying. They always had so much to impart as they shed the superficial layers of their lives. I really wanted to hear Crystal. I wanted people to embrace rather than just give lip service to the fact that “the world and everything in it is passing away.” 1John 2:15-17 It was clear to me that
Cancer was Crystal’s ministry.
Everything she loved in and about the world had been repeatedly torn from her grasp. In truth, she was dying in every picture taken of her as an adult. The light and life in her eyes was a result of all the crushing and pressing that had transformed her into new wine. I could see that she yearned to pour it out. To be honest, I remember feeling angry…really angry! While people prayed for healing I prayed they would shut up and listen. Meanwhile, Crystal was patient, surrendered, desiring nothing. I remember looking into those crystal clear eyes – her head and body covered in praying hands. I wanted her to know that I shared her frustration. Instead, I saw Jesus staring back at me – convicting me of my petty anger and resentment.
Crystal died soon after.
It may be my counseling background that has me viewing the current state of the world through the lens of Crystal and the five stages of grief through which every terminally ill patient must theoretically pass. They are denial, bargaining, anger, sadness, and finally acceptance. They speak for themselves. What is most relevant here is that these stages apply to all who dwell on the earth. I have observed that some people get stuck in one stage or another. Some form of emotional /spiritual illness often results. Today people are losing their sanity over the sudden recognition of their own mortality. It’s as if death didn’t exist before COVID. Similar to those who prayed for Crystal’s healing to the exclusion of all else, many are failing to embrace the reality that can only be seen amidst
True Trust and Surrender to God.
If you ask me COVID is just a symptom of a much deeper illness. People are desperately praying as I write, that God will heal our land. Yet the faith to which so many cling is really just denial. I’ve said many times, that as a nation, we are guilty of the same sins that resulted in God’s judgment of ancient Israel. He is judging us now. Still, many remain unable or unwilling to grasp the reality that individual justification is possible amidst God’s simultaneous judgment of a nation. Biblical illiteracy causes others to confuse God’s discipline with His wrath. Jeremiah 29 While people do everything in their power to cling to passing moments of bliss and preserve bliss’s beauty in its prime, it’s getting harder to deny that the world and especially the USA is in fact terminally ill. It has been for a very long time. Periodic lulls or remissions simply perpetuate the illusion that all is well. Meanwhile, God is speaking in and through the illness that he has no intention of healing. At least not in the way so many of us desire.
Son of man, thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house, which have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear and hear not: for they are a rebellious house. Eze 12:2
One thing seems certain. People will respond to what is coming in accordance with their respective stages of grief. Those in the denial and bargaining stages will continue to work and pray and cling to ideas and prophecies that a coming messianic POTUS will save the day. Meanwhile, the devil laughs, “Heads I win. Tails you lose”. Some will call for national repentance and like Jeremiah intercede on behalf of the nation. These often rail at unjust government as if we are righteous. But don’t expect to see Big Eva or any mega-church calling upon themselves to “turn from their wicked ways“. The fear of rejection is just too strong. Those in the anger stage may react foolishly and perhaps even violently while embracing a false belief in another 1776. Once again the devil flips a coin. “Heads he wins. Tails you lose.” Others will be so grieved that they become despondent. Some will even take their own lives. Still, others will step into Prov 3:5-8 driven acceptance and like Jesus in Gethsemane and perhaps Crystal on Kauai, walk-in Col 3:3 and James 1:2-4 knowing that “to live is Christ. To die is gain.” Phil 1:21. A place where worldly desire is seen for what it is and the only prayer that remains is
“Thy will, not mine be done”
By the way, this is a benchmark, not a platitude.
I didn’t know Crystal well enough to say when her transformation took place. I only saw the result. One thing is certain. She made peace with God and her own mortality long before I stood at her bedside. All she wanted was Jesus. And while she never had the time or opportunity for a husband, the crushing and pressing and suffering that was her life produced a new wine of grace and holiness becoming of a spotless bride. 2 Cor 11:2, Eph 5:27, Rev 19:7
A spotless bride, not a prosperous person or nation, was and is the ultimate purpose of Jesus’s coming.
May we be spotless like Crystal.
May our only cry be,