San Francisco Giants Pitcher Dave Dravecky
Dave Dravecky pitched for the San Francisco Giants until a cancerous desmoid tumor in his pitching arm required surgery. They removed half of his deltoid muscle and froze his humerus bone to try to kill all the cancer cells. On August 10 in 1989, after a long and grueling period of rehab, he came back to the majors and pitched eight innings against the Cincinnati Reds. He pitched brilliantly and he won 4 to 3. After the game he told the media, “It’s a miracle.” But just five days later, in the sixth inning against Montreal, during his first pitch to Tim Raines, his humerus bone snapped in two. The sound of it was so loud it could be heard throughout the stadium.
The cancer was back. And he not only lost his career as a baseball player but he lost his arm. When he was interviewed about it he said this:
“Nobody ever promised that life is going to be fair. Everybody’s going to have adversity. The only way to handle it is to take our eyes off ourselves and put them on the Lord.”
After all that pain and toil and work and sweat and grief, after all that Dravecky failed. Yet look how he responded. How is that possible? How could anyone respond to that kind of adversity that way?
The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear? (Proverbs 18:14)
A wounded spirit, as I understand it in the Bible, occurs when a person’s passion for life is squashed (the English Standard Version actually uses the word crushed). A depressed person could be an example of this. A suicidal person would be at the extreme end of this spectrum. And here in Proverbs 18 we see one of many places in the Bible where God’s perspective on suffering is different than the typical understanding of most Americans and many others throughout the world. We think our happiness is mostly dependent on our circumstances. If I have the right job, if I have the right woman, if I get the promotion, if I’m healthy, if I can make enough money, then… I’ll be happy.
But God says, your happiness is mostly dependent on your spirit. “The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity…” It’s what’s inside of you that sustains you. So even if you’re sick, or any other problem occurs–and for every one of us serious problems will occur–it’s what’s inside of you that sustains you. What’s inside is what makes the difference.
How Paul Never Prayed For The Persecution To Go Away
Ever notice that when Paul wrote to the persecuted churches he never prayed for the trouble to go away? Isn’t that curious? So often that’s not how I pray. When I pray for people, I often pray for someone’s solution, or success, or health, or prosperity. But that’s not what Paul did. So what did he pray for then? He was always praying for God to strengthen the inner man. For example, in Ephesians 3:16 he said his prayer is “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man…”
Paul prayed for God’s Holy Spirit to come inside of each person who made up the church in Ephesus, to strengthen each of them in a way that would glorify Christ in their current circumstances.
So it’s what’s inside that makes the difference. You can have the best possible external circumstances: money, and health, and love, but if your spirit is crushed, you’ll be depressed and unhappy.
On the other hand if you’re suffering, but you’re strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner man, as Paul prayed it would be for the Ephesians, God’s light can shine through you, God’s Spirit can live through you, and you can move forward with a passion for life.
You And Two Other Examples
Joseph is one example of this. We see God’s Spirit at work in Joseph while he went through much more than you or I will probably ever have to go through. (see previous post: How Joseph’s Dad Failed It, And How Joseph Nailed It)
Job is another example. God’s Spirit in Job is why Job has been an inspiration to people in suffering for thousands of years.
And then there’s you.
You can be another example.
Pray, like Paul prayed,
“…that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man…” Ephesians 3:16
And pray to God persistently, like the woman before the unrighteous judge prayed. (Luke 18:1-8)
So besides praying what else can I do to stay strong in spirit during my suffering? And what causes a crushed spirit to begin with anyway? Some say it’s psychological. Some say it’s biochemical. Some say it’s emotional. Some say it’s spiritual. But what does the Bible say? I was surprised. It’s much more complicated than I thought it would be.
We’ll answer these questions next week and in the weeks to come.
Tim Keller teaches this better than I ever could. You can hear his original teaching here: The Wounded Spirit
Skip Heitzig, Christians in the Crucible of Pain, Connection Communications, 2012
Image via Bhope34 – Creative Commons