Dr. Tony Evans, senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, and his family went through a terrible ordeal. Over a period of two years, they experienced one tragedy after another.
His thirty-eight-year-old niece died unexpectedly. He also lost his brother, sister, brother-in-law, father, and wife. Finally, one of his daughters had part of a lung removed because of cancer, and the world went into lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But out of that dark time emerged a book full of spiritual lessons and practical advice Divine Disruption: Holding on to Faith When Life Breaks Your Heart.
Evans, who has written more than one hundred books, booklets, and Bible studies, collaborated with his children on Divine Disruption. All four of them—Chrystal Evans Hurst, Priscilla Shirer, Anthony Evans, and Jonathan Evans—work in ministry, and they took turns with their father in narrating the book.
“We have all been through hard seasons, times in life when it seems like the hits keep coming and you can barely catch your breath,” Priscilla wrote. “Sometimes we look at Christians in the spotlight of public ministry and think they have some secret measure of faith, like they’ve figured out how to stay above the struggles of life. But no one is above them.”
The death of her cousin Wynter Pitts, a wife and mother of four girls, because of a heart-related ailment in July 2018 came as a shock. (Note: Wynter’s husband, Jonathan Pitts, shares more in his podcast, The Journey with Jonathan Pitts).
The Evans family shared their grief with their church at its Wednesday night service.
Jonathan Evans asked, “Dad, how do you keep going?”
“Because I believe what I preach,” he responded. “Where would I be in a situation like this without an anchor? I believe Wynter is in a better place. I believe in the sovereignty and goodness of God. And because I believe, I keep going.”
“The Bible is full of questions, people asking why,” he explained in Divine Disruption. “Why do the righteous suffer? That’s the theme of the entire book of Job. How do I make sense of this? How could this happen? Why?
“I cannot answer that. Deuteronomy 29:29 says God has secret things, that He does not have to answer our every question. That is His prerogative. But I would tell Wynter’s children this: Your mother loved the Lord. And the Lord loved your mother. So, in some way beyond our understanding, He determined it was her time. I don’t like it, and you don’t like it. We pray, Let this cup pass from me. But we have to believe that God knows what He is doing when He’s not doing what we want Him to do.”
Dr. Evans also believes that it is OK to be angry.
“We can be angry but still respectful,” he wrote. “It’s okay to feel the pain of God disappointing us. God already knows how we feel. Hiding it doesn’t help. We can take our anger to Him.”
But an even greater test awaited. In March 2019, he had to tell his children that his wife, Lois, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
“We are still believing God for healing,” he said. “But medically, there’s nothing they can do.”
Everyone in the room was crying—except Lois. She asked everyone to gather around her.
“You do know what this is, don’t you?” she asked. “It’s called spiritual warfare. So much death and sickness has attacked our family lately.”
She urged her family to continue to serve God during her illness. “If you’re called to preach, you will preach,” she said. “If you’re called to write, you will write. If you’re called to sing, you will sing. Now, I have every expectation that you will love and care and pray for me and be there when I need you. But God has an expectation too.”
Jonathan asked her, “Mom, how can you be talking about ministry at a time like this?”
“Because that’s why you’re here, son,” she said. “It’s the reason you exist.”
She died in late December 2019. Her husband of forty-nine years, now a widower, preached the next day.
“Anyone who has answered God’s call knows that ministry does not stop when life gets hard,” he wrote. “People still need hope and help, and honestly, that calling kept me moving forward. In fact, it helped me stay afloat. I firmly believe that serving others is a key to enduring in difficult times. When we minister to the hurting and lost, God ministers to us. By blessing, we are blessed.”
A week after her mother’s memorial service, Priscilla underwent successful lung surgery. And then came other trials, including the pandemic.
Looking back on this difficult time, Dr. Evans acknowledged that God can be hard to understand. But he also wrote, “My passion is to see God in the things that I am able to understand. That’s where my comfort comes from in the midst of loss.”
That sort of wisdom makes Divine Disruption a blessing to any Christian dealing with grief.