Tested Faith Will be Stronger
After Wild Card weekend, we are on the verge of the second round of the NFL playoffs. It’s an occasion I greet with enthusiasm.
That comes from growing up watching the greatest running back of all time—Jim Brown—play for the Cleveland Browns.
Yet, no matter who your favorite team, this year we can all have an affinity for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
At least, for the father of linebacker Ryan Shazier and the fascinating story about his faith that appeared recently.
It’s not every day that a mainstream publication explores the topic of belief, nor in a sensitive manner instead of mocking tones.
But that’s what Sports Illustrated did.
They did it in such a moving way I passed on my copy to our pastor, telling him, “I know you’re busy, but if you take the time to read this—even if it’s 11 o’clock at night after everyone else has gone to bed—you won’t be sorry you did.”
Shattered World – Tested Faith
Ryan Shazier was temporarily paralyzed in December of 2017 during a collision in a Monday night game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Naturally, that would shake up any parent. But Vernon Shazier, pastor of River of Life Fellowship in Fort Pierce, Florida, found himself with an agonizing challenge.
In painstaking detail, SI’s Greg Bishop describes the dark night of the soul Vernon endured, questioning the very faith he preached to his congregation.
What people didn’t see was Ryan Shazier’s family’s struggle and his father’s crisis, Bishop wrote, adding:
“A man who saw all life events as part of a divine plan was now wondering, suddenly, how to console his own shattered family.
“That night Vernon fell to his knees on the porch, begging God both to heal Ryan and to help him understand.”
Struggle to Believe
Bishop describes the pastor carrying on an inner dialogue amid knees wobbling and private crying sessions.
Vernon told himself he had to decide whether he truly believed what he had been preaching and teaching.
That he came out of this declaring, “I’m all in” is more than just inspirational. It’s backed by solid proof of his son’s healing.
In the time since his injury, Ryan has gone from a bed to a wheelchair to a walker to two canes to one. He is now able to walk, drive, brush his teeth, even jog.
Last spring, in a story also chronicled by The Washington Post, the Steelers’ linebacker danced at his own wedding.
Scoffers may put down the idea of faith, but it’s a bit tough to explain away that one.
Passing the Test
I admire Vernon Shazier, not just because he overcame this test of faith, but that he did so in a very public manner.
Few can understand the pressure that goes with the pastoral platform.
Not too long ago a pastor friend who feels his time is over at his current church talked of his desire to find a different job, saying, “I’m tired of ministry pressure.”
But whether one is in a pulpit or a pew, over the years I have seen far too many Christians whose faith can be described: “As long as things are fine, I’ll praise God.”
The first time they face a crisis—be that the loss of a job, a rebellious child, or any manner of setbacks that are part of life—they’re ready to check out on faith.
They’re what our pastor describes as “vending machine” believers: they want to put in a coin, pull a lever, and have a blessing pop out.
As Vernon Shazier can assure, it doesn’t work that easily. But he knows that sticking with God brings rewards.