In 2011 Lauren Garcia was struck in the back by a bullet during a random shooting spree in Atlanta, Georgia, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. Months later her family and friends gathered to celebrate Lauren’s wedding day. Because of her injuries she had to roll down the aisle in a wheelchair, but her physical reality didn’t diminish her beauty. She was radiant, and her countenance proved to the world she wasn’t going to be crushed by her circumstances.
The tragedies that assault Christ’s Bride are often unfair, and may leave permanent scars, but by God’s grace she can overcome her trials and even thrive in the face of adversity. For example, in the first church, Stephen was stoned to death outside of the city of Jerusalem for proclaiming Christ. His martyrdom ignited a wave of violence against the church as recorded by Luke in the book of Acts: “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1b). While these conditions were extremely oppressive, as believers scattered they took the gospel with them to unreached people groups. Therefore, the pain Satan inflicted on the church was used by God to deliver His message of hope to more people than ever.
Radiant recoveries take many forms, and we cannot predict how God might use us. A church family may grieve over the unexpected death of brothers or sisters in Christ, but the legacy they leave might inspire others to do something extraordinary for the kingdom. A natural disaster may devastate a community and bring incredible pain into people’s lives. However, in the midst of such great suffering the Lord can purify His people, strengthen their sense of purpose and work through them to bring mercy to those in need.
Yet, for these things to transpire the church must be capable of two crucial adjustments. First, she must embrace God’s grace in her loss. When the worship minister in the congregation I serve passed away suddenly, we grieved deeply. It was hard to accept the death of someone God had uniquely gifted for our needs, especially after he had poured himself out in an extraordinarily unselfish and humble way. But through His providential care God sent us another gifted worship minister who is also devoted to worship and willing to give himself completely to our church family. We will never replace the friend we lost, but neither could we replace the one we now have. Radiant churches honor their losses, but they aren’t imprisoned by them. Otherwise, they not only miss what God has in store for the future, but they fail to honor the important role their past has played in bringing them to the present.