by Mike Ratliff
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)
When things appear dark and perhaps the bottom just fell out of a major part of our lives, we may fall into doubt about God’s sustaining grace. However, God is faithful. He is also Sovereign and never taken by surprise by the good and bad events in the lives of His people.
On April 19, 1995 I was at work at Bank of Oklahoma in my office at the BOk Plaza in Oklahoma City, which is just a block South of where the Murrah Federal Building used to be. I was preparing to walk outside into the elevator lobby to go up to the main plaza level to help a person who was having network problems on her PC. I had made an appointment with her for 9:00am. It was about two or three minutes before the hour so I stood up to tell my coworkers where I was headed.
My phone rang so I went back to my desk to answer it. The call lasted until just after 9:00am. I was going to be late for my appointment, so I did all I could do to get through the call, hang up, and head for the door. When I hung up I stood up then turned to tell everyone where I was going and before I could get halfway to the door the strangest sound moved through the ceiling over our heads. It was the shock wave from a massive explosion just up the street, but we didn’t know that at the time. One of my coworkers was sure an elevator had crashed into the basement. Another one said it sounded like a plane or helicopter had crashed nearby.
We opened the door to our office that led to the lower level elevator lobby. What we saw was very shocking. People were running in every direction. Some were screaming. Some were crying. Ceiling panels were on the floor. Light fixtures were swinging by their wires. It was very surreal. Most people seemed to be running down the stairs that came from the bank lobby. I ran up the stairs. The tellers were hurrying to close and secure their cash drawers. The lobby area of the bank had a Mezzanine level that overlooked it so the ceiling there was three stories high. The outside walls on the North, East and South side were all glass. These panels were huge and very thick. When I turned the corner towards the North wall I was stunned to see that all the glass that formed it was gone.
I ran down to that part of the lobby. One of our loan officers was being given first aid. He had been hit with a glass shard that was several feet long. It had actually gone into his back and the other end was sticking out of his abdomen. Another one had experienced a several ton glass panel come crashing down over him as he simply put his head on his desk covering up like a soldier in a foxhole. He was unhurt, but very shaken. He was praying.
I walked down to the east end of that wall then walked through the opening where the glass should have been out onto the plaza. It was then that we learned that the Federal Building had been bombed. A man with a Civil Defense helmet on tried to get us to move away from the building. It was then that I went back inside to my office to get my jacket and cell phone from my charger. It was all very surreal with the damage and screaming and crying upstairs, but in our office, everything was normal.
I then left the building with one of my coworkers. We walked up the street to the Federal Building. Everyone else was running or walking away from it. My car was parked in the Federal Center Parking garage so I went there to see if it was okay. It was still in its spot, but it was covered with a layer of dust or debris a few inches think. We then exited the north side of the garage and continued up the street to the front of the Federal Building. Sirens were screaming in from all directions, but there were no organized fire or police operations yet. I looked up the street that used to run in front of the Federal Building, but was now a huge crater in the ground with the whole front of the building collapsed into it. The Water Resources Board building looked like a plane had crashed into it. There were cars on fire all over the place. There were blood-covered people lying in the parts of the street that had not collapsed. There were other people giving them first aid. Other than the approaching sirens, the surreal nature of the scene was compounded by silence.
A few weeks later when we had a debriefing with a counselor/therapist that the bank hired, I was asked to share what I had seen and how I had dealt with it. As I tried to share with them I realized that every time my mind ventured into those details of that day my memory of them always seemed to set them in darkness. It was as if it was evening or night. However, all of this took place in the morning. The counselor/therapist asked me if I had been afraid during it. I told him that I did not remember being afraid, but I was very angry. The fellow next to me was the head of our security. He added that he too was very angry and wanted to be the one to pull the switch when they executed whoever had done it. We became best friends that day.
The reason I shared this is so that I could explain why I spent the next 9 years as a very angry person who did not care too much for well-meaning Christians telling me that I should be able to handle this by simply trusting that God was in control and would work it all out. People in my church who were not there that day were the worst. Even my pastor seemed clueless on how to handle it. I wasn’t the only one from our church family affected by the bombing. In any case, I was a smoldering cauldron of very hot emotions for many years and it seemed that God was very far away. I had a huge problem controlling my temper during this time and my Christian walk became very erratic. I had long periods of rebellion sandwiched in shorter periods of repentance and drawing closer to God with this cycle repeating over and over.
In 2000 my wife and I moved from OKC to Tulsa when I became the Senior DBA for the bank. We were active in a large Baptist church in Broken Arrow and I substituted in Sunday school for our teacher when he was traveling. However, I was still on the emotional roller coaster with periods of obedience and periods of rebellion fluctuating back and forth. It seemed that I had lost the ability to control anything. Then the company I work for now recruited me. They are in the Kansas City area. We moved from Tulsa to this area in 2001. We became active in a small Baptist church in Olathe, KS.
Not much changed in my struggles with a consistent walk and controlling my temper. I was still teaching Bible Study classes, but I also still had problems with self-control at times. 2003 ended with me being asked to start a new Bible Study class for young adults. For some reason this terrified me. This drove me to my knees. As a result I began to seek my Lord seriously for the first time in nearly 10 years. I began morning devotions and daily Bible reading. I also began reading godly books. By August I was having both a morning and evening devotion time. I was in a state of Bible study or Theological research or prayer or worship nearly all the time. By mid August I began a prayer journal.
About that time I had a very profound experience. I woke up one morning and realized that my entire value system had been altered. I no longer cared for anything that would distract me from seeking the face of God. All fleshly pursuits seemed foreign and abhorrent to me. I was in such a state of joy that I could not contain it. I’m sure my friends and family thought I had lost it, but my anger problem had vanished. My pastor made the comment that he could tell that I had been spending a great deal of time in prayer by how I counseled him in a Deacon’s meeting once. That surprised me. It seemed odd to me that the others in our church were so world and flesh oriented. I wanted everyone to see that that was not what God wanted from us.
That was the beginning of my writing ministry that lead to Possessing the Treasure and being a contributor for Christian Research Network. I wanted to share this journey with you so that you could see the lengths God will go to in our lives to accomplish His purposes in us according to His perfect will. As the passage at the top of this post says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Those things that work together for good can be very nasty circumstances that may seem to us to actually be destroying us. However, for those who love God, these things will work together for good. What most of us don’t like to admit though is that what God is doing through this is disciplining us to change us from being self-focused and useless to Him to ones who are God-focused and usable vessels according to His will and purpose.
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:3-6 ESV)
I believe that my journey of anger and struggles with repentance was God driving self-focus and pride from me. I’m sure I am still in much need of that good work in me, but the rage and erratic walk are markers of my past. God has granted me repentance. My pride is still under constant attack so I am still being disciplined quite a bit, but those days of darkness are gone.
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7-11 ESV)
As we learn to see God’s discipline in our circumstances we must not rebel and refuse His pruning and cutting away that which is in us that is not of Him. No, we are called to endure it. It is for our best. It may be very unpleasant. It may be very challenging. However, God is in control and we must submit to Him in this if we are to come out of it as the disciplined bondservants He desires. The Father is the vinedresser. Christ is the Vine. We are the branches. (John 15) If we endure the Father’s pruning so that we can bear more fruit then through this process we will become more mature. We will become Spirit-led and Christlike.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. (Hebrews 12:12-17 ESV)
When we respond to the pruning and disciplining from God as we should, God will grant us repentance and we will become the believers we never thought we could be. We will be fruitful in the Kingdom and will have the ability through the grace of God to say no to our flesh and respond to all people in all circumstances as our Lord would. Why? Because we will be controlled by the Holy Spirit because we are submitted to our Lord in all things. Which is better, to be self-determinate and fleshly or to be humble, spirit-led believers whose flesh is crucified?
If you are in the fire right now then take your circumstances to the throne of grace. Seek God’s face in prayer and submit to His discipline by His grace. I pray that you will not have to be pruned as long as I was, however, the end result is what matters. I’m sure He isn’t through with any of us yet and all us may have some very serious pruning awaiting us before He takes us home.
Soli Deo Gloria