Monday, July 23, 2012


In those days Hezekiah became terminally ill. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came and said to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: “Put your affairs in order, for you are about to die; you will not recover.”’ Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord.

He said, ‘Please, Lord, remember how I have walked before You faithfully and wholeheartedly, and have done what pleases You.’ And Hezekiah wept bitterly.   Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah:  Go and tell Hezekiah that this is what the Lord God of your ancestor David says: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Look, I am going to add 15 years to your life.’” (Isaiah 38:1-5 HCSB)

Be careful what you ask for…you might get it…and what you get, you may find out is not really what you want after all.

When our oldest son, Chris, was small, every time the refrigerator door was opened, he would cry for that bottle with a bright red lid and a cowboy on the label—“Texas Pete.”  I told him that he didn’t really want it—it was hot sauce and would burn his mouth.  This was a constant thing.  Sometimes, he would pitch a fit.  Finally, I decided it was time to give him what he asked for.   So, I took a spoon and put a little in it, and let him taste it.  He never asked for any more!

You might think it cruel, but it was a valuable lesson.  He thought he knew more than his father.  In the matter of hot sauce, that was no big deal.  The consequences were minimal.  But, there might come a time when he would not listen to his father’s counsel and his action could have terrible consequences—pain, death, and even eternal loss!

Consider the case of Hezekiah.  The good king received word from the prophet Isaiah that he was going to die.  It was time to make out his will, say his good-byes, tie up any loose ends, and prepare to meet His God.  Hezekiah’s response was a natural reaction.  He prays for the Lord to heal him.  He prays fervently.  Tears fill his eyes, flow down his face and drench his pillow as he cries out to his Father in heaven for life.

We can understand that.  I shared with my class in Sunday School when I taught this lesson that we are hard-wired for life.  God made us so.  Death is an intruder.  It was never part of God’s original design.  He placed the tree of life in Eden, so we might eat of its fruit and live forever.  But, instead, Adam and Eve chose the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Death came with the curse of sin.  Yet, there is that within us which fights against it, and resists it to the last gasp.  We want to live.

We can.  Through faith in Jesus Christ, eternal life becomes ours immediately—and is ours permanently.  That is what makes it eternal life!  That means it is unending.

But, it means more.  This is a quality of life and not only a quantity of time.  The latter would not be heaven unless connected to the former—it would be hell.  In fact, those in hell will have everlasting existence, but not eternal life.  The lost have that perpetual quantity of time, but no quality of life!  The child of God has both—and what a hope!

This is why Paul would pen these words from his prison cell:

My eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all boldness, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

For me, living is Christ and dying is gain.  Now if I live on in the flesh, this means fruitful work for me; and I don't know which one I should choose.  I am pressured by both. I have the desire to depart and be with Christ—which is far better—but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.  Since I am persuaded of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that, because of me, your confidence may grow in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.” (Philippians 1:20-26 HCSB)

The old, battle-scarred general was weary and wounded from earth’s warfare.  He wasn’t afraid of death, but was eager for heaven.  His choice was surrender to God’s will.  In this case, he believed that God would spare his life and release him.  He still had some more work to do—and that is what happened, this time.

Now, Paul had the benefit of more understanding of the world to come than Hezekiah did.  From reading his prayer, we see how infantile the king’s knowledge of heaven was in comparison to the apostle’s.  Hezekiah prayed,

For Sheol cannot thank You; Death cannot praise You.  Those who go down to the Pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness. The living, only the living can thank You, as I do today; a father will make Your faithfulness known to children.” (Isaiah 38:18-19 HCSB)

Although Hezekiah didn’t know all that Paul knew, he did know the most important fact that the Apostle understood—God can be trusted.  Father knows best.  We can rely on His infinite wisdom; we can rest in the providence of God.

Hezekiah did not respond that way.  He wouldn’t take, “no” for an answer.  He got what he prayed for—the Lord added fifteen years to his life.  But, as it turned out, what he prayed for wasn’t what he needed.  Had the record of this godly man’s reign ended here, it would have been on a note of triumph!  He could have sung the exultant testimony Paul eventually sang,

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time for my departure is close. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  There is reserved for me in the future the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8 HCSB)

Unlike his first imprisonment, the apostle is on Death Row.  This is it—and he’s fine with that.  Paul, like a championship track star, goes into his finishing kick and sprints toward the goal—Glory!

Hezekiah did not.  He stumbles at the end.  He lived too long.

During that last fifteen years added to Hezekiah’s life, an heir was born to him named Manasseh.  That young lad would become king at the age of twelve and reign for fifty five years.  As good a king as his father was, Manasseh was so evil.  All the spiritual advances made in the revival times of Hezekiah were reversed by his son.  Manasseh opened the door to the judgment of God on the nation.

During the last fifteen years of Hezekiah’s reprieve from death, the king foolishly entertained the Babylonian officials, who came supposedly to bring get-well greetings to Hezekiah, but were, effectively, spies.  Hezekiah proudly shows off his treasures and his kingdom, including the fortifications.  Isaiah sorrowfully addressed the king who lived too long:

Then the prophet Isaiah came to King Hezekiah and asked him, ‘Where did these men come from and what did they say to you?’  Hezekiah replied, ‘They came to me from a distant country, from Babylon.’

Isaiah asked, ‘What have they seen in your palace?’  Hezekiah answered, ‘They have seen everything in my palace. There isn't anything in my treasuries that I didn't show them.’  Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, ‘Hear the word of the Lord of Hosts:  The time will certainly come when everything in your palace and all that your fathers have stored up until this day will be carried off to Babylon; nothing will be left,” says the Lord. “Some of your descendants who come from you will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”’” (Isaiah 39:3-7 HCSB)

Be careful what you ask for…you might get it.

You can live too long.  There are things worse than death.

Let me share with you a tale of two preachers.

One preacher had a major stroke.  By the time he was found in his car, he was almost gone.  They rushed him to the hospital.  People loved him.  They loved his family.  An all-night prayer meeting was organized and the people cried out for God to spare his life.

God did.  But, it would have been better to have submitted to the will of the Lord rather than insist on more time.  That man had ten years of misery added to his life.  He was bedfast to the end of his days.  His mind was affected.  He lived in constant pain.  There was not a day that went by, that he did not long to be free from the prison his body had become and wing his way home to heaven.  For the child of God, there are things worse than death.

But, it was a valuable lesson for a second preacher who would look death in the face.  The man who lived too long was his grandfather—my grandfather. 

There came a day, when I was summoned urgently to the doctor.  I had some routine blood work done that turned out anything but routine.  These chilling words met me, spoken from my wife as I pulled in the driveway from the doctor’s office, “You’ve got to go back to the doctor, immediately!  Your blood platelets are down to almost nothing!  They said to be very careful—if you are in a wreck, you will bleed to death!”

I would be given steroids to build up the platelets. An appointment was made with a hematologist.  I required a bone-marrow test for the proper diagnosis and course of treatment.

A cloud of doom descended on me and my family.  I had been around sickness enough as a pastor to know that it was quite possibly cancer—and that might well mean brutal treatments, followed by agonizing death.  I had seen it repeatedly.  I asked the doctor, “Is it leukemia?”  He said, “That’s possible.  We have to do a bone marrow test.”

I hit my knees.  But, I was careful for what I prayed for.  I did not want to die, but I recalled my grandfather’s final years, and wanted that even less.  I asked God to heal me, but supremely I asked that His will would be done.  If my Father said that it was time to go home, I was content with that.


When I looked at my wife and young children, I wrestled with submission to God’s will.  If I died, who would care for them?  Didn’t they need their Daddy?  I prayed—and I prayed until the answer came.

It wasn’t an audible voice, but it was just as clear.  In my heart, I heard God say, “Don’t you think that I can take care of your family?”

The most remarkable peace flooded my soul.  I was never really afraid to die.  I believed what I preached about heaven was true.  But, there was that last hurdle to overcome, before I would say that I was ready to die.  Now, I could.  I said, “God I trust you!  Your will be done.”

That is life’s most important prayer.  It is the highest form of prayer.  It is modeled perfectly for us in Jesus as He faces His death in Gethsemane.

Should we not ask for miracles?  Ought we never expect healing?  Is it wrong to want to live?  Of course the answer to all those questions is a resounding, “Yes!”

Jesus prayed three times that He might not have to drink that bitter cup.  If there were any other way to accomplish His mission of redemption than to do that, He wanted to avoid this unimaginable, immeasurable suffering.  But, there was not—and He submitted to it: “Your will be done.”  His desire was for the will of God more than anything else.  He knew His Father knew best.

Be careful what you ask for…you might get it…and it not be what you really want.

Seek God’s will, His wise plan for your life.  You might not like it now, but in heaven you will understand and rejoice, “God, I thank You that You do all things well.  I see now how what I thought was bad was working for my good.”

God chose to add years to my life.  There was more work for me to do!  As the late Paul Harvey used to say, “And now…you know…the rest of the story.”

But not entirely…there are a few more pages, even chapters, to be written before mine concludes…some of it remains a mystery.  We live life forward, but understand it backward.  For some things, we just have to walk by faith and not by sight.  We can’t even begin to understand, “Why?” in certain matters.  As the old gospel song says, “We’ll understand it better by and by.”

In the meantime, there is grace and peace in knowing we can trust God’s will.

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