In the late summer and fall of 2007, God used a number of factors to give me a level of stability in my overall well-being that continues to make life easier and more restful and, I trust, more glorifying to Jesus Christ.
Here is a list of ten items from the past six months—factors I believe God has orchestrated together (and is still doing so) to improve my quality of life. Many of you have been so faithful in praying for me that I feel it is necessary to report to you some answers to your prayers. Some of these items are specific, tangible details while others are in the realm of the spirit. Together they constitute a mosaic for good.
1. I was enrolled in hospice care from April 5 to November 30, and received primarily two things from this: some helpful medications and a sense of freedom from (what I saw as) an endless round of tests, procedures, doctor visits, and possible approaches to my health problems. Even though I am no longer listed in hospice, because of the level of stability I have attained (a marvelous answer to prayer in itself!), the time in hospice was the right measure at just the right time. It set me free from the medical procedures and appointments and gave me the inner peace and rest I needed.
2. After nine months of a “mystery illness” (probably a combination of a parasite and the stress generated by my condition) that put Judy in the hospital in May with “failure to thrive,” she has been recovering steadily.
3. Our church graciously allowed Judy the summer off to be home with me and to decrease her work schedule from five days a week to two-and-a-half in the fall.
4. Our computer suffered from “failure to thrive,” and we bought a new one.
5. A friend helped me start a blog on May 31st. “The Benediction Project” has been one way I have attempted to share the mercies of God with others. Thank you for checking in regularly.
6. I started a small book (100 pages) on prayer with a ministry colleague, Jane Spriggs, and we have the book nearly finished. It will be published in Manila for poor pastors and Christian workers in a number of developing nations.
7. I was able to buy a pair of badly-needed new eyeglasses.
8. In July, Judy and I celebrated forty years of marriage with an open-house at our church. In view of our health issues, this was an especially meaningful occasion.
9. The psalmist says, “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7). I have learned in a new way—far more experientially than cognitively—the meaning of this scripture. For me, the inner rest of soul, which includes my acceptance of physical limitations and the accompanying lack of “productivity,” is definitely a gift of God, but one which I need to continually receive, by daily acts of the will. I must also acknowledge that specific medications are a part of the total picture of inner peace, as are naps several times a day. I am not able to determine how great a part each of these plays in my condition, or how physical, spiritual, emotional, and social factors intertwine. I am simply very, very grateful.
10. This last factor needs a whole article of its own, but I will try to summarize it as briefly as possible, in a way that might be helpful to you in your personal experience of life. Basically, God enabled me to answer the question, “Why live?” It is embarrassing to admit that, since my heart transplant of November, 2003, I have struggled with the question, “Why live?” Surely I settled that issue years ago! But, even though my breathing began to improve considerably following the transplant, I experienced new difficulties from rejection and the medications to combat rejection. At times, when the pain, bodily weakness and other afflictions have been heavy upon me, I have asked myself the big question, “Why live?” I have a three fold answer which, to many of you, will seem quite simple. I know how it appears on paper: very plain and obvious. But, as some of you have discovered, I’m sure, the concepts that have radically altered and guided your life may not appear very profound to others. My threefold “key” is:
(a) Live now in the moment to honor God,
(b) Live now as an ongoing example to those whom I have influenced for good over the years,
(c) Live now to extend Christ’s reign over the earth.
I have had to accept the fact that my participation in (c) is very limited, and may one day be inseparable from (b). So I place my emphasis on (a) and (b), because all that I absolutely must do in those categories is just “be,” with the fruit of the Spirit growing through me (Galatians 5:22-23).
Now that I have sketched these ten factors that I believe have come together—through the hand of God—to change my level of health for the better, I want to ask a question: When we hear of “answers to prayer,” how much do these answers relate to circumstances and human effort? (By circumstances I am referring to visible, tangible factors in our lives.) I believe firmly that God has answered the prayers of many people for my improved health. While my condition is still a daily concern to Judy and me, the level of stabilization I have been given is such that I cannot call it mere “luck” or “coincidence.” Even though I invested significant effort in some of the factors outlined above, I still see the hand of God as the all-encompassing influence in my condition.
My answer, in brief, to the above question is: I don’t know for sure, but I believe it is biblically valid to say that the efforts of individuals and groups to change circumstances for the better are major factors in the way God “answers prayer” for those in need. A study of the life of the apostle Paul, for example, as well as other followers of Jesus in the book of Acts and elsewhere in the New Testament, reveals the inter-connection between prayer, human activity, circumstances, and the will (either directive will or permissive will) of God.
I feel somewhat awkward writing of my effort in the whole improvement process, because I see my overall change to be primarily the result of peoples’ prayers and God’s will. With embarrassment I admit that I have not wanted to live for much of the four years since the transplant. But over the past six months, with the above-mentioned changes in circumstances and thinking, and with new motivation from God, I have come to the point of willingness to live. I still struggle some days, such as today, December 29, 2007, because pain and other ailments work hard to take away my joy, but the Holy Spirit of God—the Comforter (John 14-16)—never fails to console me and renew my effort to live and serve.
May God give each of you reading this a special sense of God’s favor toward you (grace) in 2008 and the knowledge that he is always willing to answer prayers, orchestrate circumstances, and increase your hope and strength to motivate and enable you to do what you need to do.
Here is a New Year’s benediction from the great apostle Paul, and from me.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)