Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Time Is Terribly Short

Dannah Gresh: Toward the end of her life, Rachel Barkey displayed a unique perspective on suffering and God’s goodness.

Rachel Barkey: The worst moments of each day are the ones right when I wake up, the moments when I’m just coming out of a deep sleep, and I’m becoming aware of what time it is, what day it is, and then I remember that I’m dying.

My frustration and anger are normal. They are even right—some would say. But at their root, they are unbelief. They are my sinful heart saying, “I don’t believe that this is the right thing for me, God. You must not know what You are doing, or if You do, You are not good.”

Dannah: You're listening to Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, co-author of You Can Trust God to Write Your Story, for Monday, May 4, 2020. I'm Dannah Gresh.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Over the last several weeks people all over the world have been forced to deal with a sobering reality, and this is, time is short. Our hearts have broken as thousands have succumbed to COVID-19. And even those who have avoided the coronavirus have been reminded of the fragility and the brevity of life.

During this time, I thought back to a message that we aired a number of years ago on Revive Our Hearts that really struck a chord with listeners at that time. Rachel Barkey gave this message just shortly before she went to be with the Lord. She called it "Death Is Not Dying." Rachel had never considered herself a public speaker. In fact, she had a fear of getting up in front of crowds. But the Lord gave her strength to offer unvarnished, simple truth in a powerful way.

We thought this message would be good for all of us to hear, especially in these days when there has been so much about death in the news. I was deeply touched when I heard this message, and I think you will be as well. It's a sobering, realistic, and yet hopeful reminder from a woman in the final season of life here on earth. Here’s the late Rachel Barkey.

Rachel: Although there are many, many friendly faces among you, most of you don’t know me, but I would gather that most of you know that I am dying.

Six weeks ago I was given the news that my liver and bones are full of cancer. Just this past week I found out that it’s spread to my skull, and today even I went for an MRI to see if it’s gone to my brain. Estimates vary, but barring a miracle, it is likely that I will not be here in six to eighteen weeks, or 42 to 126 days. It sounds like a long time when you’re waiting for Christmas or something that’s on back-order, but when it’s the time that you have left to cuddle with your kids or spend with your husband, it’s terribly, terribly short.

Cancer’s been a big part of my life for several years now.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly five years ago. Quinn, our son, was just two years old, and Kate, our daughter, was only seven months. I was just weaning her when I found the lump. I always wondered how you’d know when you found a lump, but when I found it, I knew.

Because of my age, I was thirty-two, things moved quite quickly. I had a partial mastectomy within two weeks and then began six rounds of nasty chemo. Right after finishing chemo, I had more surgery, this time a bilateral mastectomy—removal of both breasts—and reconstruction. A few months later, I discovered that my cancer was genetic, and so I opted to have my ovaries removed in an effort to prevent the cancer from returning or new cancers from developing.

I have taken medication every day for the past four years to reduce my chances of recurrence.

In short, I did everything I could, and more than even my doctors recommended, to avoid the situation I find myself in today. But for some reason, what bothered me was the fact that all of a sudden people were defining me by my cancer. I was a cancer survivor—and I am. Well, I was. But cancer does not define me. Neither does being a wife or a mother.

What defines me is my relationship with Jesus.

All of these things are a part of who I am, but they do not define me. What defines me is my relationship with Jesus, and that is why I am here tonight, to tell you why Jesus defines me, to tell you what I have learned about what is really important in life, and to share the four things, the four principles that have helped shape me into who I am today and give me hope.

I have shed many tears over the past week as I grieve the reality of my death, and I will no doubt shed many more. But in the midst of my sadness, there is a deep and abiding peace and hope, a peace and hope that I would like for you to have, too.

So here’s the things I have learned, the important truths I want my kids to know:

  1. Know God.
  2. Know yourself.
  3. Know the gospel.
  4. Know your purpose.

In Romans 12, verse 2, it says:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect [which is to say we are changed by what we know].

Before we go any further, I want to establish something as a starting point. I am going to quote from the Bible, and I am doing that because I believe it to be the very words of God for you and for me because, as charming as I’d like to think I am, what I say means very little, but what God says means everything. So here we go.

The first thing I’ve learned: Know God.

Now, I don’t even like to admit this, but I am a bit of a celebrity hound. I have to admit. When Neal and I were first married, we lived in downtown Vancouver, and many evenings we would go for walks on Robson Street. Of course, of all the places in Vancouver where one is likely to see celebrities, it’s Robson Street. Neal likes to tease me because I often think I see someone famous only to find out it’s not.

Case in point: There was this one man that I would see often, and he was the spitting image of Tom Selleck. Remember him—Magnum, P.I.? Anyway, this guy looked exactly like him. He was tall like Tom Selleck. He had the thick mustache like Tom Selleck. One day we—me and Tom—were standing in the lineup at London Drugs, and I got a really good look at him. I still thought it might be him, and then I heard him speak—and it wasn’t him.

We often do this with people, don’t we? On the other hand, I know my husband Neal. I know what is important to him. I know what he likes and doesn’t like. I know his character. I know his strengths, which are many, and I know his weaknesses, which are few. I know him because I want to know him. I spend time with him. I observe him. I ask him questions.

There is a natural tendency within us to try and make God who we think He is or who we think He ought to be. If all is well in our world, our view of God is unchallenged. He is good. He is loving. He is fair. But when things start to go awry, that is when our true view of God is revealed.

We think God is not good or that He is unjust or that He is not in control because hurricanes destroy whole cities. Children are mistreated and abused. Wars break out and innocent people are killed, or women get cancer and die, leaving their children without a mother and their husbands heartbroken. We try to fit God into who we want Him to be rather than seeking Him for who He really is.

Our view of God will inform our view of everything else.

As someone said to me recently, “Rachel, I don’t believe in your God. I don’t believe in a God who would let this happen.” The problem is, there is only one God, and we can’t make Him who we want Him to be. He is who He is.

In His book, Made in His Image, Steve Lawson agrees saying,

Whenever we lose a right view of God, everything else gets out of perspective. Essentially, our view of God will inform our view of everything else. It will be the lens through which we perceive reality, and it will shape our thoughts, worldview, attitudes, and perceptions.

God has revealed Himself to us so that we can know Him, and He has done this in two ways: He has revealed Himself through nature. Psalm 19 says,

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor other words, whose voice is not heard. . . . [Their voice] goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world (Psalm 19:1-4). 

All of nature speaks to the amazing character of God.

I always laugh when I read news articles or when new animal species are discovered or some major scientific breakthrough shows again how complex and amazing our world is. We think we know it all when in actuality we know very little.

Just as art is a reflection of the artist, nature is a reflection of its creator. So God has revealed Himself in nature.

He has also revealed Himself through Jesus. The book of John begins like this, speaking about Jesus:

In the beginning was the Word [Jesus], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men (John 1:1-4).

And in Hebrews 1,

In these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (vv. 2–3).

That is Jesus. Jesus is God.

When we learn about Jesus, we are learning about who God is. The whole Bible points to Jesus and teaches us about who God is.

God, of course, has many characteristics, but the one I will mention here encompasses many others and describes Him and only Him. He is holy.

Charles Hodge, the Princeton theologian defines it by saying,

The holiness of God is not to be conceived of as one attribute among others. It is rather a general term representing the conception of God’s consummate perfection and total glory. It is His infinite moral perfection crowning His infinite intelligence and power.

This is to say that He is perfect, and because He is moral perfection, He is separate from us because none of us—no matter how much we volunteer, or how much we give at the office, or how much we sacrifice for our kids, or how much we convince ourselves that we are good by saying, “Well, I’m not a bad person because I’ve never killed anybody,” none of us can claim moral perfection much less infinite intelligence and power.

Which leads me to my second point: Know yourself.

Here is where I hope you’ll permit me a few minutes to rant. I intend for it to be a gracious rant, but it’s going to be a rant nonetheless.

Everyone has pet peeves, and mine are very well known to those near me. I’m very particular about smells, so people who drench themselves in perfume and cologne—not my favorite. So I’m particular about smells.

Other pet peeves: I really have to bite my tongue when I get poor customer service. When someone in the service industry is thoughtless, lazy, or just plain rude, everything in me wants to get in their face and say: “People, this is your job.”

But my current pet peeve, the one that makes me rant, is the lie of self-esteem. It is everywhere. Oprah is its champion, but what distresses me most is how prevalent it is in the church today.

The lie of self-esteem is this: If I believe that I am good enough, or that I am worthy enough, I will be happy.

  • In the secular world, it sounds like this: Believe in yourself. You deserve it. Learn to love yourself.
  • In the Christian world, it sounds like this: If you just believe that you are loved by God, you will be happy. Or, accept yourself because God has already accepted you.

They all sound pretty good, actually. Nothing wrong with that—right? But there is. Do you hear it? Me, me, me. The lie of self-esteem is that I need to do something. I need to believe something, or I need to accept something in order to be happy or complete.

Several people have asked me lately: “Why would God take you away from your family when a murderer or a rapist gets to live a long life?”

The implicit assumption there is that I am a good person, and I deserve better. But I am not a good person, and I do not deserve better. Bear with me as I explain.

I have done wrong things—we all have. True, I have not murdered anyone, but I have done things that are wrong. In Romans 3:23, it says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

I know that if I did not get praised or avoid punishment for doing good things, I would choose to spend all of my money on me. I would make decisions about how to spend all my time and activities around what was best for me. Isaiah 53:6 confirms this: “All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned everyone to his [or her] own way.”

The sad thing is culture tells us that this is a good thing. “You can do whatever you want if it makes you happy.” And sometimes, but not always, we throw in the caveat, “and doesn’t hurt anybody else.”

Left to our own devices, our sinful nature cannot help but express itself. Sure, we try to do the right things, but doing things on the outside does not change the inside. Our hearts are still the same. Be honest with yourself. Our natural tendency is not to do good things.

I’ll use my kids as an example. Since last fall I have thought that I really need to be a nicer mother. Now most of you who even know me fairly well would say, “You’re always so nice to your kids.” Not true. Just ask them. I have found that I say, “No,” an awful lot, and when I took an honest look at myself, I realized I was saying, “No,” because it was inconvenient to me.

  • I don’t want them to jump on the bed because that means I will have to tidy it again.
  • I don’t want to give them a snack because that means I have to get up from checking my email to get it for them.
  • I don’t want to do that craft right now because it will be another mess for me to clean up.

Hear it? Me, me, me. And now when I know that the days I have with them are few, I find myself saying, “Yes,” a lot more.

It is a subtle difference, but it is one I encourage you to listen for because the focus of life is too often ourselves when it should be God, and this is the essence of sin.

I am already unable to be out of bed for more than a few hours a day. This evening has required a full day in bed, which was disrupted by the fact that I had to go and have an MRI, and a lot of drugs to make it possible for me to stand here right now, and that frustrates me.

The other day Kate asked me to pick her up. She’s five. This doesn’t happen very often by the sheer fact that she’s just too big. But there she was, standing in front of me with her arms outstretched, asking, “Mommy, will you pick me up, please?” I thought, hoped, rather, that she was asking for something else, something I could do, because I couldn’t pick her up. I had to tell her so because if I do, the bones in my back, which are riddled with cancer, are so weak that they will collapse onto my spinal chord. I understandably got frustrated and angry. I rail against the fact that I can’t do what I want to do.

The worst moments of each day are the ones right when I wake up, the moments when I’m just coming out of a deep sleep, and I’m becoming aware of what time it is, what day it is, and then I remember that I’m dying.

My frustration and anger are normal. They are even right—some would say. But at their root, they are unbelief. They are my sinful heart saying, “I don’t believe that this is the right thing for me, God. You must not know what You are doing, or if You do, You are not good, or You are not in control, or You are just being unfair because I don’t want this, and You are not giving me what I want.”

That is what my heart naturally says, and what yours does, too, when faced with circumstances we don’t like—when someone at work is making things difficult, when someone in our family doesn’t do what we would like them to do, when accidents, natural disasters, or disease happen. But God is good. He is in control. And He is fair. When I try to make Him into a God who serves me, I sin. Our natural bent is to sin, and it is our greatest problem.

Nancy: In her final weeks of life on earth, Rachel Barkey showed us what it looked like to trust in the sovereignty of God. Rachael gave that message several years ago before her body succumbed to cancer. When we first aired it on Revive Our Hearts, so many listeners contacted us, thankful for these powerful truths. I wanted to return to this series here on Revive Our Hearts because we need these truths as much today as ever before.

Rachel realized her greatest problem wasn’t her cancer. By extension, your biggest problem, my biggest problem isn’t travel bans or an economic downturn or my husband’s cancer or even the coronavirus. Our greatest problem is a spiritual virus that we’ve had ever since we were born. It’s sin. That's the problem that separates us from a holy God. If you’ve never dealt with that sin problem, I want to remind you that Scripture has good news for sinners. It's called the gospel.

You see, Jesus came to this earth and led a sinless life. He died for our problem once and for all. He took the punishment for your sin and mine, and He offers us His forgiveness and eternal life. If you’ve never asked Him to forgive your sin and make you right with God, you can do that today. In fact, if God has been speaking to your heart as you've been listening to Rachel's story and as you've heard this good news, I'd love to just pray for you right now.

Oh Father, I believe that You have been speaking to the hearts of many of our listeners today, some of whom have no idea where they will be when they stand before You after death, where they will spend eternity, some who’ve never dealt with that sin issue by turning away from sin and trusting in Jesus Christ to save them. I pray that today would be the day of salvation, that many would turn to You and acknowledge that they cannot save themselves but that You can. I pray You would give them eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray, amen.

Dannah: If God has been speaking to your heart to turn away from sin and to believe in Jesus Christ, I want to encourage you to contact us today. We'd like to help you in your spiritual journey. In fact, we'd be glad to send you a helpful book by our friend, Dr. Erwin Lutzer that's called, How You Can Be Sure That You Will Spend Eternity with God. If you'd like to be sure, just give us a call at 1–800–569–5959, and we'll send that book to you at no charge.

We're able to make resources like this available to those who want to know more about how to have a relationship with Christ thanks to the support of listeners like you. So if you're already walking with the Lord, and you're encouraged by what God is doing through programs like this one, would you pray about supporting Revive Our Hearts with a financial gift?

Nancy: I realize these are difficult days for many, and you may not be in a position to donate anything at this time. I get that. But you can pray with us! And if your needs are met, and if you’re supporting your local church, would you think about supporting Revive Our Hearts?

As a ministry, we’re dependent on gifts from friends like you. And the month of May is that time of year when we close out our books and look ahead to another year of ministry. Our needs like so many others, and perhaps yours, are significant at this time. So please pray about what God might have you to give, and then contact us at ReviveOurHearts.com with your gift, or call us at 1–800–569–5959.

Thanks so much for helping make it possible for us to continue sharing the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ, with those who need Him.

Dannah: We’ll hear the second part of this message from Rachel tomorrow, and I know you’ll be challenged and inspired as she shared how she was trusting God to finish well. Join us tomorrow for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you know God and know yourself. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

 

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