by Mike Ratliff
28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28 (NASB)
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 it looked like a war zone 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 trying to give them first aid. I saw one man covered in blood coming from a head wound walking down the street. 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. I know some right now that to this day still can’t go downtown because of what that trauma that day did to them. 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 worked for from September 2001 to December 24, 2021 recruited me. At that time they were located 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 God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to 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.
3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
4 You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; 5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,
“MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD,
NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM;
6 FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES,
AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.” Hebrews 12:3-6 (NASB)
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.
7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Hebrews 12:7-11 (NASB)
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.
12 Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.
14 Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; 16 that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears. Hebrews 12:12-17 (NASB)
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