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Crying Over Nabeel Qureshi

Screenshot taken from YouTube

I never thought I would cry over a complete stranger. But the death of a man whom I have never met had me tearing up a few times this week.

Last night, it happened again while I was watching the live stream of Christian apologist and author Nabeel Qureshi’s memorial service. Hearing two of his mentors, apologist Ravi Zacharias and Rice University chemistry professor Jim Tour, recount their time with the 34-year-old and his love for Jesus as well as his non-Christian family, had me welling up in tears.

Perhaps it was because the tributes were heartfelt and heart-breaking, or because it felt like I actually knew him personally. I bought Nabeel’s book two years ago, and have been following his progress since he first announced that he had advanced stomach cancer. Whichever reason it was, Nabeel has certainly made an impact on my life—as well as the lives of many others.

Here was a man who centered his entire life on Jesus and the gospel even though it meant turning his back on the people he loved most dearly—his family, who were staunch Muslims. Not only that, he went on to proclaim the good news of Christ, through talks and books—such as New York Times Bestseller Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus—despite threats to his safety and relentless criticism from those who considered him an apostate.

So many, including myself, were shocked that God would take him home so early on in his earthly life. Like most people, I couldn’t help but wonder, Why? Why now, when he was at the peak of his ministry? Why now, when he had just started a family? Why now, when the world needs gifted and passionate communicators like him to build bridges with the Muslim community?

Though none of the answers that have been circulating online can fully answer these questions, a post I stumbled on provides a deeply encouraging and helpful perspective. It was written by Nabeel’s colleague, the North American Director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). In a beautiful tribute to his dear friend, Abdu Murray wrote:

Ravi Zacharias, who loved Nabeel deeply, has written about him in a secular news source. Thousands who had never heard Nabeel or the gospel he loved to preach have now been exposed to Jesus’s life-changing message. People have seen Nabeel’s steely faith remain steelier yet in the face of death. They have seen the “peace that passes all understanding,” as the Bible calls it, in Nabeel’s voice. And they are encouraged to face difficulty with grace. A deaf world is roused through the megaphone of pain to hear the message that God has overcome the troubles of the world through Jesus. Nabeel was a megaphone for that message in his life and he is a megaphone for that message in his passing.

 If not for anything, Nabeel, who made a significant impact during his life, continues to make an impact in his death. Many have come to know of him, his books—and his God—after hearing about his life and death over the past week. I believe Nabeel’s legacy will continue in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

Of course, that doesn’t take away from the fact that Nabeel is no longer with us. We will miss him dearly. But while his passing may seem like a huge loss, let us not forget that he is in a far better place today. And let’s not mourn without hope—for we have the full confidence that God will continue to raise up men of great faith to continue His kingdom work. Just as God can raise up a devout Pharisee like the Apostle Paul and an ex-Muslim like Nabeel to become effective ambassadors for Him, He can—and He will—continue to convict the hearts of men in His own time and way.

Learning to Face Death from Nabeel Qureshi

Photo by Nabeel Qureshi

“It’s a little unsettling to watch the vlog of someone who knows he’s about to die,” I remember telling my mother after watching what would be Nabeel Qureshi’s second last video blog on YouTube just last week.

In it, the Pakistani-American Muslim-turned-Christian apologist spoke about his final stages of life and how he was receiving palliative care.

Still, both of us were shocked by how quickly the 34-year-old’s passing came. The popular itinerant speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) died on Saturday, 16 September, after a year-long battle with stomach cancer. He leaves behind his wife, Michelle, and two-year-old daughter, Aya.

As tributes poured in for Nabeel over the weekend, I found myself saddened by his death and wondering why God took him at such a young age, when he was still so active, effective, and passionate in ministry.

I first heard about Nabeel two years ago when a friend told me about his book, Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward. Reading his book, I was struck by how thoughtfully and objectively he had presented the facts about Islam and Christianity.

As I started reading up more about him and watching his videos, I was moved by Nabeel’s deep conviction and commitment to the gospel despite what it cost him, and heartened that God had raised such a brilliant and articulate person to reach the masses—in particular the Muslim community—for Him. Months later, I saw the heartbreaking news on Nabeel’s Facebook page: he had advanced stomach cancer, and the prognosis was grim.

As I’ve been following his progress intermittently since then, his death, though imminent and expected, still feels sudden and surreal. But the legacy that he has left behind—and the lives he has impacted during his short 34 years on earth—is unquestionable. Being just a couple of years younger than him, I cannot help but think about my own life and wonder about the kind of legacy I would leave behind one day.

One of the things about Nabeel that has deeply impacted me was how he faced death. Unlike many others, he had the privilege of knowing and preparing for his last days on earth. Even up till his last days, he was still uploading video clips testifying about Jesus. Perhaps, however, being able to stare at death in the face was a little overwhelming—even for a man of great faith like him.

I remember watching his second last vlog and thinking that he sounded almost discouraged and despondent; he seemed to be really struggling to accept that God may not eventually heal him. This both surprised and encouraged me.

It surprised me, because I had assumed that he would be 100 percent settled in his heart by this time, that his time was drawing to a close. But it also encouraged me, because his complete honesty about his desire to be healed showed how even great men of faith had their “moments”. But, finally, it is what he said at the end of the video—without any hint of bitterness in his voice—that I would always remember: “But if it shouldn’t be Your will, Your sovereign will at the end of the day, then I trust You, and I love You anyway . . .”

And I believe that that is exactly how Nabeel would want all those who are grieving over his death to respond: to completely trust God and love God regardless of the outcome. May Nabeel’s life and death inspire us to devote our lives to Jesus for the rest of our days, so that like the Apostle Paul and Nabeel, we can say with confidence at the end of our lives, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:7)

 

Read author’s follow-up article: Crying Over Nabeel Qureshi

To Those Not Celebrating Father’s Day

I have nothing against Father’s Day. My family just never had the practice of celebrating it—along with other occasions like Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day.

Maybe it was because my parents were not the sentimental sort. The most we did was to attend the big, extended-family dinners my uncles or aunties would throw for my grandfathers on both sides. But with my dad, we never did anything special. No fancy dinner, no expensive gifts, no warm and fuzzy family photo.

If anyone asked, we would just say, “Nah, it’s just a commercial gimmick.” After all, we didn’t need to wait for an occasion to have a nice dinner together; if we wanted to, we just had one. And the same applied to the giving of gifts. My dad gave us gifts whenever he felt like it. So birthdays were never much of a deal in my family, either. And we were all happy with the way things were.

Perhaps that was a blessing in disguise. I have hardly gotten emotional during Father’s Day in the past four years since my dad passed on suddenly after a massive stroke. Sure, the banners and electronic displays screaming “Father’s Day Lunch Promotion”, “Father’s Day Discount”, or “Father’s Day Gift Ideas” trigger memories of my dad, but they don’t choke me up with emotion. And I’m thankful for that. I miss my dad enough, so I don’t need another occasion to get me all weepy.

You may identify with my situation. Maybe your family just doesn’t have the practice of celebrating Father’s day, or you lost your dad some time ago. Perhaps your dad has been absent in your life, or is an abusive and irresponsible figure you want nothing to do with. Perhaps Father’s Day brings you more pain and frustration than any other day, and you cringe at the mere mention of it.

Whatever your reasons for not celebrating Father’s Day, here’s what I’d like to say: You’re not alone. I know, I know, it’s clichéd—but it’s true. And it’s not because there are other people out there who are in the same boat as you. No matter how similar our circumstances may be, each of them is unique. No one can fully empathize with what you’ve been through, even your own family members. But one person can and that’s all that matters.

Mourning over the loss of my beloved father brought me closer to God than ever before. I remember nights where I wished my dad were still around so I could tell him about all that had happened during the day. But I couldn’t, so I told it to God instead. And then there were other times I would find myself tearing over a memory of my dad triggered by something—a dream, a place, or an item—and I would end up pouring my feelings to God. Each time, God never failed to comfort me with the reminder that my dad was safe in His arms, in a much better place.

Over time, I realized that what my earthly father had shown me was a glimpse of how wonderful and good my heavenly Father is. My father’s generosity, his gentle disposition, and his protective nature—God was all these and more. Regardless of how our fathers have been or are like, let’s take comfort in the ever-abiding presence of our ultimate father, God Himself. He’s the father who will never leave, disappoint, or abandon us.

 

 

3 Ways Discomfort Discomforted Me

Not again. I was at my wit’s end. A good two and a half weeks had passed since I had finished my second course of antibiotics, but as I gazed at the ceiling that night—awake, alert, and anxious—it felt as though I was back to square one.

For weeks, I had been experiencing a mild case of urinary tract infection (UTI). It was not the first time I had it; but unlike the first time, when a round of antibiotics easily cured it, the symptoms were relentless this time.

In most cases, UTI manifests as a frequent or intense urge to urinate. On some nights, I would go to the toilet as many as seven times before going to bed. On other nights, anxiety about having to visit the toilet in the middle of the night would plague me the moment I lay on the bed. I would end up tossing and turning for a couple of hours—and on some occasions, the entire night.

That night, I had just made five trips to the toilet within two hours. As I flopped onto my bed for the fifth time, I could feel my heart racing and a sense of dread setting in. I couldn’t help thinking about what else I should have done to ensure a faster recovery.

Take antibiotics, probiotics, and cranberry juice? Check. Drink a lot of water? Check. Pay a visit to the doctor? Check. Twice. Seek divine intervention? Big check. I even “formalized” my plea to God on three separate occasions by recording my prayers in my journal when the symptoms seemed to much for me to bear.

But none of these things seemed to work.

“Maybe this is the thorn in your flesh God has given you,” my brother finally said on one occasion after hearing me lament for the umpteenth time and trying unsuccessfully to cheer me.

That’s when it hit me. What if God had no intention to remove this “thorn in the flesh” from my life for the time being? What if the whole reason why I was going through this was that God was trying to teach me that His grace was sufficient for me—but I had just been too preoccupied to see it?

When I finally turned to scripture to read about Paul’s struggle and response to his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), I felt rebuked by my own less-than-ideal response. That’s when I discovered three things about myself.

 

 1. I tend to rely on myself.

As much as I know my life is in God’s hands, I almost always resort to human means to address my problems. If I’m falling sick, I make sure I get enough rest and eat the right food. If I don’t achieve positive results at work, I try to put in more effort. If people don’t respond to me, I look at what I should or shouldn’t have said, and try to make up for it. Everything in life can be “fixed” with the right solution, and so can my health.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with these actions, I realize that it’s only when I exhaust all human means that I turn to God, delve into scriptures, and pray actively and fervently for relief. This is exactly what happened in my recent case of UTI.

 

2. I tend to focus on myself.

In the grand scheme of things, I knew that the physical discomfort I was experiencing wasn’t that bad. For one, it would hardly constitute the kind of suffering the Bible talks about (Romans 5:3-5). Also, aside from having to make frequent toilet trips, I didn’t feel any physical pain and could function perfectly well. I could eat, work, sleep, and play. As long as my mind was distracted by something else, I wouldn’t even feel the symptoms.

But I certainly made a big deal out of it. Whenever the symptoms became more pronounced— especially in the evening when I was resting at home—I would throw a pity party for myself and invite my family members to be a part of it. I also made sure those around me—my colleagues, church friends, and close friends—knew I was “suffering” and would never fail to request for their prayer.

I’m ashamed to say I don’t always remember to pray for friends the same way, especially if they share about their “minor” problems like cough and cold. In fact, I even secretly frown on those who keep harping on the same issue, such as when my mother kept asking my brother and I to pray that God would remove the itchy sensation around her neck. It was only when I had to go through a prolonged period of physical discomfort myself that I realized how “non-issues” like these could so easily affect and discourage me.

That realization made me more sympathetic to others going through similar discomfort. I decided to consciously pray for others every night as I prayed for my own relief. And that’s when God really put my problems in perspective. Compared to the aunty at church who was having a relapse of lymphoma and a friend who had just suffered a serious viral attack that almost took her life, what did I have to complain about?

 

3. I tend to focus on this earthly life.

Though I know that this world is not my final destination, I tend to live my life as though I’m going to be here for eternity. It’s only in moments of helplessness that I’m reminded of the truth that I should not be holding on to anything in this life.

Discomforts and setbacks of any magnitude or nature serve as reminders that we live in a transient—and broken—world. Our physical bodies are not built to last; over time, they will naturally wear down and malfunction. How comforting, then, are the words of 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, which tell us that the suffering we go through in life now is preparing us for eternity: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Though we see trouble and suffering on every front, we know that these are but signposts that there is something so much better ahead of us; difficulties and suffering in life will come to an end. And while there’s nothing we can do to escape problems in life, we can certainly change how we choose to respond to them. American pastor Charles Stanley once said that nothing attracts the unbeliever like a saint suffering successfully. Based on how I had been responding, I’m pretty sure I looked more like a saint suffering sorrowfully. Still, I thank God for using this episode to correct the way I have been viewing and responding to “suffering”.

As I write this article now, I’m thankful that God has stopped my UTI from flaring up in the past week. I’m not sure it will recur, but this experience has given me the determination to do these three things the next time I’m faced with any form of “discomfort”:

  1. Commit my discomfort to God and ask Him for strength and wisdom to respond to it.
  2. Remember that there are many others around me who are facing similar discomfort—if not worse—and pray for them.
  3. Thank God for giving me the discomfort, because it is a reminder that this earthly life was never meant to be a comfortable one.