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We met nearly ten years ago, both of us passionate about ministry and unaware of the healing we’d need years down the road. Our meeting was short—a few days. At the time, he was a new Christian and a budding author and speaker, with enough raw talent to throw me into intimidation. I was a young (and green) speaking coach, tasked with guiding and equipping a group of communicators. He was one of the group, and his name was Nabeel Qureshi.

Conference complete, I returned to my life and Nabeel to his. I thought little of him in the years after, until I ran across his name on social media in 2014 or so. It’s not a name one soon forgets.

After a quick search, I found him on Twitter and discovered the young speaker had become quite prolific, speaking at hundreds of universities, churches, conferences and various other venues. Known for his thorough knowledge of Jesus and Christianity, he often defended both via public debates with an intelligence and warmth that left others stunned.

His faith burned like a bright light, inextinguishable.

I shot him a quick note, congratulating him on his ministry and encouraging him to press on.

Soon after, I was diagnosed with tongue cancer for the second and third times, in spite of repeated prayers for healing, and I drifted away from social media in my fight to live. All thoughts of Nabeel Qureshi evaporated in the immediacy of my existence.

But then I recovered and slowly came back to life over the following two years, permanently marked and altered, but alive. Somewhere along the way, I read Nabeel’s bestselling book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. I wept while reading the last pages. His story was poignant and thought-provoking, his words reaching my raw places as I wrestled through so many faith and life questions.

Then, late last year, I once again stumbled across Nabeel on social media. Only this time, the encounter delivered a difficult blow:

Nabeel had been diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer. This man whose faith inspired thousands—including me—was now fighting for his life, much as I had mine.

So I started to pray. God heal! God, this is your son, your servant! Deliver him! Show us your glory!

Because of his very public ministry, his diagnosis sat in a spotlight. This was a former Muslim who embraced Christianity after a thorough study of Jesus. Surely God would spare him! His platform was big, his testimony powerful. This was to be a healing of Divine proportions.

Only it wasn’t. Three days ago, on Saturday, September 16, Nabeel went home. At the age of 34, he met Jesus face-to-face, the One He loved most of all.

I’m heartbroken. These things hit me hard now that I know they don’t just happen to “other people.” I ache for his wife and young daughter, his wide circle of friends and colleagues. I mourn the loss of a strong voice of Faith who shared Truth with extraordinary conviction, grace and love.

But perhaps my greatest struggle is understanding why.

Not “Why do bad things happen?” I’ve already wrestled that question into submission. No one is immune to pain. And pain, as much as we hate it, serves a purpose.

Instead, why him? And why now? He was a defender of the Gospel. He stood at the front lines of Christianity boldly sharing his faith to a world of seekers. Was healing too much to ask for?

Last year, after speaking at an event in South Africa, a woman approached me, confident:

“Don’t you worry, Michele. God has too much good work for you to do to let you die. You’re going to live a long time! I know it!” She patted my arm and walked away. I stood there shaking my head.

It doesn’t work that way.

I don’t have all the answers, even after years of searching desperately for them. But, in all my questioning and struggling, all my fighting to live and facing the reality that I will die, I’ve learned to go back to three core questions when the ground under my faith starts to quake:

  • Is God real? Whew. I’m not beating around the bush here, am I? This is where all our searching must begin. If God isn’t real, then everything about our existence means nothing. We are accidents of nature waiting to expire. Why fight it? Why pray for healing and live a meaningless existence? What we do or say means nothing, changes nothing. However, if God is real, that fact changes everything. We are created by Someone with intention, someone who is stronger, wiser, bigger than us and our questions. This is terrifying. And reassuring. Depending on the answer to the next question …
  • Is He good? This is all about character. If God is real, then what do I believe about His nature, His heart? If I believe He’s a vindictive, cruel or indifferent God, then NO, THANK YOU. I’ll figure this one out on my own. However, the Bible speaks of a God who is tender, compassionate, full of mercy, absolutely faithful. A God who gave His own life to rescue mine, even knowing how many times I’d doubt Him. Will I forget his goodness and love in the place of my pain? Or …
  • Will I trust Him? This right here is the question of all questions, the one I’m forced to answer when friends die and healing doesn’t come. Ultimately I must make a choice, one that trumps both my capacity to understand and my ability to control. I can either release my strangle hold on life to reach for this real God who calls me His beloved. OR I can refuse Him and do my best to strong-arm life into submission. Of course, eventually you and I will both discover that control is an illusion. Then what will we be left hanging on to? Trusting God doesn’t eliminate our pain, not even close. But it gives meaning and purpose to it, and hope of new life in spite of it.

Someday each one of us will receive a “no” in spite of our prayers for healing. No matter how hard we work to preserve life, one day we will lose it. Morbid? Maybe. But real. And the more we build our security on the answers to those core questions today, the better prepared we’ll be to face the unanswerable ones tomorrow.

And to Nabeel: I’ll see you soon, brother. I’m keeping my eyes on Jesus, all the way Home. He is real, He is good, and I trust Him.

{NOTE: This post may contain affiliate links. See my full disclosure here.}

[reminder]Have you wrestled with a ‘why’ question? What helped you walk through it? [/reminder]

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