Three years ago, I was preparing a team for a mission trip literally on the other side of the world. If my head were a globe, my nose would be my hometown and the middle of the back of my head would be our destination. This trip was a big dream with big plans, and we were inviting families—including mine—to travel with us to serve our ministry partners.
Little did I know that this big dream would lead me on a journey to understand our need for the gospel as humans—despite any circumstances we face.
About a month before we were to leave, my father had a heart attack that put him in the hospital for weeks and required a six-way bypass. He didn’t bounce back. He recovered so poorly and slowly that every day I asked God if I should cancel my ticket. But He didn’t answer me.
Two days before our flight, Dad came home. And while that was a huge answer to many prayers, it didn’t answer the question I was asking: Should I stay, or should I go? Now Mum would be home alone with her fragile husband, and I would be useless to both of them. Because I would be worried, scared, and as far away as the back of the head from the nose.
Here’s the thing about the gospel, though: it doesn’t change when the seasons of life do. It isn’t better or worse depending on your dad’s health or your availability or your feelings.
The Gospel Is True
The gospel is true: even if, even when, even though He didn’t answer me. And, so, the call to fit our feet with the gospel is much the same: when He says run, I run. When He says stand firm, I stand firm. And when He says go, I go.
He had said go, and He hadn’t changed His mind. I learned that He wasn’t not answering me; it’s that He already had.
I spent the morning of our flight packing travel essentials for all of us, preparing snacks, filling water bottles, charging devices, and generally panicking about all the things I was likely forgetting.
The phone rang, and I expected it to be my husband from the grocery store. But, instead, I heard the voice of the kids’ school secretary shaking at the other end of the line. “I don’t know how to tell you this …” she began.
I phoned my husband, asked him to pick up our youngest, and told him that I would meet them both at the emergency room. Honestly, I don’t remember much until I pushed through that hall and found my tiny, front-tooth-gapped, blotchy-faced baby girl sitting on a gurney staring back at me. “I didn’t land my cartwheel,” she said as her chin quivered.
At that time, I begged God for answers, knowing the Gospel is good—even when there was no way to make sense of this moment.
As we waited for a fourth set of scans and an orthopedic resident, I felt my daughter’s blonde head collapse onto my shoulder. “I’m so sorry I ruined our trip, Mama,” she cried. Why would she even say that? I wondered. How could she think she could ruin anything? And why was she thinking of me at that moment?
The gospel is good, and sometimes it snuggles up close even when despair is sitting on your lap.
And He met us at the hospital, all on board, believing we were all going. That hero of a child bore down and took it when her doctor twisted and pushed one last time and set her arm. She sat so still as he cast her tiny limb and fit her for a sling. And with each tear of mine that couldn’t seem to hang on, she whispered, “I’m okay.”
The Gospel Is Still Good
We arrived at the church to an army of cheering teammates, friends, and family. They applauded as our wee one smiled and said again, “I’m okay.” Fifty, maybe more, surrounded us, laid on hands, and prayed us onto the road headed in the direction of the airport.
The gospel is good and shows up in and through God’s family who reminds you which way to point your compass.
Now, if I tell you all was well because everything turned out exactly as it was supposed to—that my father recovered and continues to live a great life and my daughter has full range of motion in her elbow again—I would feed an almost universal desire for “everything works out in the end” to be the explanation. But that’s the prosperity gospel. Not the gospel.
So, let’s be honest: that isn’t what the gospel is for. It’s not a magic trick. It’s not a life hack.
What the Gospel Is
The gospel is oxygen in our lungs, the reason we get up, the confidence to say yes, and the courage to say no. It is reason enough to get on a plane when every step leading to the gate felt like an Everest-sized leap.
The gospel is God’s outlandishly creative love story. He is writing a way back to Himself for you and for me every day. It’s living and active. The gospel is the center of history where we find our identity. It is the story that reminds us who we are on our worst days, and whose we are on our best.
The real problem with how I would one day tell this story, I learned, was that I thought a happily-ever-after ending would make it easier to make the gospel good. But how many people in Scripture see their happily-ever-after?
Let me put it to you this way: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance … These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised …” Hebrews 11:13, 39-40.
The gospel doesn’t need a good ending—it already has one. What the gospel story needs is a good middle.
Finding Good in the Middle
Our mission, or so I thought, was to lead kids to a good gospel in spite of their circumstances. And boy, did that feel important given that these kids were living in cardboard and fabric-shanty towns.
As we began to engage with them, I realized the depth of my ignorance: these kids knew Jesus and had a fervor for worship that made mine seem agnostic. But they knew and loved and served Jesus. I needed their Jesus. They needed my stuffed-full suitcase and the four others in our hotel room.
Jesus’ gospel was hindered by my privilege. Have you ever needed the gospel to justify your life instead of the other way around?
I thought the kids living in deep poverty needed Jesus because they were poor. Friends, let me be blunt: kids need Jesus because they’re human. Our circumstances do not determine our need for the gospel.
The visceral depravity surrounding a child does not make their need for the gospel more desperate. The gospel isn’t circumstantial, and our need for it is not determined by a season of life any more in the slums than in my dad’s hospital room. When the throes of life are choking us, the gospel resuscitates belief. I had been breathing in my neck for over a month.
The word, “need,” brought me to my knees. Hunger, thirst, and clothing needs are visible. We feel powerful and able to meet those needs when we see them, and Jesus uses us to do so. But we run the risk of creating a dependency on us, rather than on Jesus by meeting visible needs alone and calling it the gospel. And the truth is: kids with visible needs don’t need Jesus any more or any less than kids who seem to be fine.
We say we need Jesus. Tell me why you need Him. Tell me what He has done for you. Who are you because of Jesus? What compels you to tell someone what Jesus has done for you? And I don’t mean inside the walls of a church building on a Sunday morning.
As you breathe in and out, dependent on oxygen, how would you say you are utterly dependent on our Savior? Because that is a very good gospel.
The thing about the wildly desperate month leading up to our trip is that my dad’s heart and my daughter’s arm actually have nothing to do with the story of the gospel. But they have everything to do with the one He’s been writing in me: The gospel is good even if, even when, even though …
God is with me in every season. Even the ones where He seems silent. Even the ones that don’t look like His plan. And especially the ones where He is reminding me that His gospel is still true, is always good, and this is only the middle.