An Example of Persevering Faith2
In a recent sermon here at Bridgeway I told everyone about a remarkable man, or better still, a man with a remarkable God. In these challenging days when we complain and become embittered with an ever so slight inconvenience, we need to hear the story of Pat Bickle.
On Saturday, May 5th, 2007, at the age of 50, Pat Bickle departed this life and entered into the presence of his Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Most of you will probably never have heard the name of Pat Bickle, but he was one of the more godly men I’ve been privileged to know. He was the brother of my good friend, Mike Bickle, who leads the International House of Prayer in Kansas City.
I officiated at the memorial service for Pat, together with other friends of the family, where upwards of 1,500 people were in attendance. It was bittersweet, to state the obvious.
In September of 1973, Pat was in his junior year of high school and no doubt was looking forward to a successful year on the football field. But on the second play from scrimmage in the third game of the season, he launched his body into that of a much bigger, all-state fullback on the opposing team. Pat fell to the ground, motionless. Motionless he would stay for the next 33 ½ years.
Pat’s quadriplegia was unlike that of most who suffer this sort of injury. I’ve known several quadriplegics who can at least, to some extent, move their arms and hands. But from that day in September of 1973 until he entered into glory on May 5th of 2007 Pat could move nothing other than his head. Nothing.
A close friend who worked for several years with victims of spinal cord injuries told me that those who suffer what Pat did have a maximum life expectancy of 12-15 years. We were all amazed, and rightly so, when actor Christopher Reeve lived 9 ½ years following his injury. Pat lived 33 ½ years!
But he didn’t just “live”. He refused to become bitter or resentful or angry at God. He was determined, instead, to be an encouragement to others, to point them to God and his goodness and to inspire their walk of faith. I can’t begin to tell you the number of people whose lives were challenged and changed by the life and testimony of Pat Bickle. He was a model of humility, honesty, and perseverance. Of course, he would have been the first to tell you it was by the grace of God alone that he endured and thrived as he did.
No, Pat’s faith wasn’t perfect. Whose is? Did he struggle with doubt and anger and confusion about why his life took this tragic turn? Sure. But he never lost hope in his God. He never abandoned the one who died for him on the cross and brought him the promise of a new body in a new heaven and new earth.
For the final three months of his life, Pat was in the hospital, unable to breathe on his own, rarely able to speak. Each time after visiting him, Ann and I would walk away befuddled by his faith and stunned that we were so presumptuous as to take our ability to walk away for granted. Even in his stillness and silence, Pat inspired and motivated and awakened people, like us, to the mercy of God and the importance of redeeming each moment for the glory of Christ.
Do you know what the Bible calls 33 years of paralysis? Light, momentary, affliction! Read that again. Here is the way Paul said it in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight [or “light,” NAS] momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
The “outer nature” (v. 16) refers to our bodily frame, our physical constitution, our creaturely mortality (cf. 4:7 and Paul’s reference to our “earthen vessel”). In view of the broader context of this passage, the “wasting away” of the “outer nature” would include the hardships of vv. 8-9, the dying of Jesus in us of v. 10, the being handed over to death of v. 11, and the death that is at work in us of v. 12. Of course, it also includes the progressive decay or deterioration of the physical body, whether a result of persecution, disease, or just growing old.
What I’m saying here is not meant to minimize the hardship that Pat or his family endured, or the disappointment experienced from his lack of healing in this life.
No one is suggesting that we are to treat pain as though it were pleasure. Paul is simply calling on us to bring all earthly adversity into comparison with heavenly glory. However crushing and disillusioning Pat’s condition may have been, when compared with the eternal and infinite weight of the glory of heaven, it was a momentary, feather-like inconvenience.
“But Sam, I can’t see it! I just can’t see this! It makes no sense to me.” If you can’t “see” it, it’s probably because you’re looking at the wrong thing! Paul says that this perspective is possible only for those who gaze intently at what they can’t see! That’s not a contradiction in terms. Look again at his language. We are enabled to “see” persecution and paralysis, oppression and every obstacle as a weightless trifle only so far “as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
In spite of the horrendous and tragic decay and disability of his outer nature, Pat’s “inner man” was being renewed daily because he resolutely fixed his gaze upon what he couldn’t see with his physical eyes. With the eyes of faith and hope and love he riveted his heart and soul on the reality of eternity and the unending glory and grandeur of his savior Jesus Christ!
Listen to me well: you only have two options. Either God is great or you are a fool. Both can’t be true. If God is not great, then you are a fool to trust him. If God is not great, Pat Bickle should have taken the advice of Job’s wife who told her husband, “Curse God and die.”
On the other hand, if God is great, then Pat was no fool. If God is good and great, Pat was among the wisest of men to have trusted him. If God is good and great, the most sane and rational thing Pat could have done was to continue, notwithstanding his paralysis, to love and honor and cherish God. And that’s precisely what he did.
I conclude with this one final question: What must this God be like to have warranted Pat’s love and faith through 33 years of absolute paralysis? What kind of God is it that can remain the focus of a man’s devotion when that man lives as Pat Bickle did?
Some of you may be more inclined to ask: “What kind of God is it that would have permitted this horrible tragedy and then left his child in complete paralysis for 33 ½ years?” I understand that reaction. Truly, I do. But I’m more inclined to ask: “What kind of God is it that could inspire and sustain such love and devotion in spite of 33 ½ years of paralysis?”
Some look at Pat and say, “Wow, that’s some kind of faith.” Well, yes. But may I suggest we look at Pat’s faith and say, “Wow, that’s some kind of God!”
Have you thanked God today for feet and hands and eyes and ears that work? Have you praised him for the ability to think and speak and eat and play with your grandchildren? Do you take driving a car for granted? Have you presumed upon the sunlight or the air you breathe or the blood coursing through your veins? When was the last time you paused to reflect on the thought that “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28)?
I’m sure I’ll think often of Pat until I stand (and dance) with him before the throne of God above. But until then I pray that by God’s grace I will be able to look at his life, his paralysis, his death, and the example that he set and say: God is good! God is great! God is glorious!