Remembering David Powlison moves me deeply. When everything was on the line for Jani and me, David and Nan were there for us.
We spent a day together in 2007 – for Jani and me, a catastrophic disaster of a year. David was an oasis of calm, gentleness and reasonableness amid a swirl of accusations, loss and heartbreak. David, with Nan, kept our hope alive.
One suggestion David made became so significant that I have passed it along to many others since then. I can’t remember his exact words. But it went something like this: “Ray and Jani, you are suffering. And it isn’t going to get better any time soon. But here is an idea. Ask the Lord for a verse of Scripture, a promise in the Bible, to help you get through this. And when that verse jumps off the page into our heart, make it the theme of your life while you slog your way forward. However dark the nighttime sky might be, you can always look up at that North Star promise, get your bearings again, and keep going. But wallpaper your reality with the Word of God.”
So we did. We asked the Lord to personalize to us a biblical encouragement of his own choosing. And he did. Jani was reading 1 Peter 5 soon thereafter, and verse 10 was a direct hit – in the best of ways: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” We seized that verse.
We memorized 1 Peter 5:10, discussed it, prayed over it. I checked it out in the Greek text. Jani wrote it out on 3×5 cards and taped them to the inside of the kitchen cupboards, so that every time she went to get a glass or a plate, there was 1 Peter 5:10. I wrote it out and stuck it to the visor in my truck so that, at a red light, I could look up and be strengthened by 1 Peter 5:10. We never let that verse out of our sight. And in ways we could not have even imagined, God has proved faithful to his promise. To this day, whenever Jani and I experience some restoring, confirming, strengthening or establishing mercy, we look at one another and say, “1 Peter 5:10!” In fact, we did so just yesterday. That word from above didn’t merely help us cope. It redefined how we experience reality, far beyond all we could ask or imagine.
David Powlison understood human suffering and despair. He understood how God helps sufferers. He understood that what we need is a hope dependent on nothing in this world but grounded in God alone. The word himself in 1 Peter 5:10 has become, to me, one of the most precious words in all the Bible – God, not delegating the task to any angel, but God himself getting personally and directly involved with us in our real need. How glorious.
At the time, I have to admit that, though my heart resonated with 1 Peter 5:10, I could barely believe it. Jani believed it more than I could. But David was right. And thanks to his wise counsel, I turned toward the Lord with the weak faith I had. And gradually, as the years went by, I was enabled to believe more and more. And now I know, at a deep and personal level, that God himself restores, confirms, strengthens and establishes us, when we have nothing to offer him but our sorrow and need.
Thank you, David. Thank you.
This post was originally published on The Gospel Coalition