“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
As an 8-year-old child, while reading Bible verses that explained God’s love, my sin, Jesus’ sacrifice, and my need to repent and accept God’s grace in faith, God spoke to my heart. Although not audibly, he called, “Trust me. Follow me. Never will I leave you.” I did not fully understand God’s grace then. I still don’t. However, I knew I could trust God, and I took that first step.
A Promise for Life
From the beginning of our journey together, I relied on God’s promise never to leave or forsake me. Whether facing childhood illnesses, the death of loved ones, or thunderstorms that drove me to an inner stairway, I asked the one and only God who saved me to be with me. Often as a child, particularly during thunderstorms, I sang the comforting words of an old hymn, No, Never Alone.
Through the struggles of adolescence, school, career, and marriage choices, God’s voice remained: “Trust me. Follow me. Never will I leave you.” Prayers for guidance, daily Bible reading, and the support of believing family members and friends helped me grow in faith and continue my walk in God’s path. Many times I wished for a clearer map. Instead, God taught me to trust him one step at a time, often leading me into unexpected territory. When I felt God’s call into ministry, I anticipated serving on the mission field. Instead, God led me to social work.
Though employed by a secular agency, I asked God to shine his light through me. In the midst of 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week on-call stress, God continued to speak: “Trust me. Follow me. Never will I leave you.” He walked with me through dysfunctional circumstances, court hearings that ripped families apart, and behavioral patterns that continued through multiple generations. I prayed for new insights that would lead to life changes. I praised God when those changes occurred.
An invitation to join my first international mission team resulted in additional challenges and opportunities to trust God’s guidance. Writing and performing dramatic skits, working with interpreters, and temporarily releasing my passport and visa in order to minister in a women’s prison stretched but grew my faith. I worked additional trips into my schedule as often as possible.
In spite of my job’s inherent difficulties, I never planned to retire. I expected either to drop dead while making home visits or to be kicked out the door when my abilities grew suspect. However, once again God spoke. I knew I needed to leave as surely as I had known all those years before that I was where God wanted me to serve. With no idea what the future held, I heard once again, “Trust me. Follow me. Never will I leave you.” The message that time included, “Everything will be okay.”
God’s call to serve as a friendship family for international university students came out of the blue. A friend, originally from Hong Kong, asked if one or two girls from Taiwan could stay with our family during the local university’s Christmas break. Although a bit uncertain, we said yes. That answer led to some of the greatest relationships and experiences of our lives. We continue to hear from many of the students who have become a part of our ever-growing family.
Soon after we stepped into that role, my husband was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. His initial prognosis was three to five years. He went into remission after three years and his recovery continues to stump medical professionals. Nevertheless, health challenges from the tumor, plus a heart attack, stroke, and fall with severe brain injury five years later, halted further mission trips. At the same time, this ongoing experience has increased the impact of our testimony with the young people who have become a part of our family. We appreciate, as never before, God’s leadership through every circumstance. “Trust me. Follow me. Never will I leave you.”
Just for fun, since I was home more, I began submitting a few of my church and mission trip dramas for publication. Eventually I added other work, including articles, devotions, poetry, and Bible studies. At a writers’ conference, I felt God’s nudge to attend a workshop on ministry through writing. That led to radio dramas for translation into multiple languages for broadcast around the world. I no longer take mission trips, but I now share God’s love with more people than I could in a lifetime of short-term travel. “Trust me. Follow me. Never will I leave you.”
Through the decline and death of my father, God never left. As several family members face uncertain futures, God remains. He turns unexpected encounters with friends, family, acquaintances, and perfect strangers into lessons in faith and ministry opportunities.
Lessons from God’s Promise
Whether looking back or looking forward, in every life stage and every event, I never cease to be amazed at God’s comfort and strength. Whether on top of the world or in the pit of despair, I have learned the following.
Turning to God in faith is a choice. Whether 8 or 80, I had to reach a point when I acknowledged my failures, turned to Jesus, and gave him complete control of my life. Without that decision, nothing else matters. When I stepped out in faith, God filled my life with his presence, never to leave, never to forsake.
Regardless of my circumstances or my reaction to those circumstances, I can count on God. I may feel abandoned and alone, yet God remains. His promises never depend on my emotions. Neither should I. I rely on God’s never-changing nature, not my ever-changing feelings.
God knows and understands my struggles. Jesus has been there and done that for every situation I face. Physical, spiritual, and emotional exhaustion; exasperation at the actions of others; sorrow; and death—Jesus faced them all.
If I fail to trust God, I fail. Far too many times I’ve stepped out on my own only to fall flat on my face. While I’m still a work in progress, I know God never fails. His way may not always be easy, but it will always be right.
In addition to his presence, God grants his power. That remains as true today as when Joshua prepared to enter the promised land. Not only did God promise in Joshua 1 that he would be with Joshua, several times he said, “Be strong and courageous.” In verse 9, God added, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” The best part: When God says be strong and courageous, he gives his strength and courage. When I think I cannot go on, God can. Whether he takes me by the hand and leads me where I need to go or picks me up and carries me there, God extends his presence and power for every challenge.
Therefore I can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid” (Hebrews 13:6).
Diana Derringer serves with her husband as a friendship family to international university students. Her blog at dianaderringer.com explains unusual English expressions for people with a non-English background.