Paul wrote, “Let your hope make you glad. Be patient in time of trouble and never stop praying” (Rom. 12:12, CEV).
March 31, 2013 is a date my family will never forget. It was the beginning date for an unrelenting storm over my family and me. While teaching my Sunday morning Bible class, I was struck by a massive heart attack. It was sudden, unannounced, and horrific. Within a few minutes, I went from mild discomfort to a life-threatening situation. My wife and 911 were called. My pain escalated wildly, and I was beginning to lose consciousness. I was fully engaged in a fight for my life, a war that would be fought over the next few months.
The attack was devastating, damaging heart muscle that cut its function to 18 percent. This made it hard for some organs to do their work. The worst part was feeling that life was hanging by a frayed thread. Pain racked my abdomen, such that morphine did not contain it. Then it moved to my back, hips and legs, from endless hours of lying on a bed. I survived three near-death events and my heart function was moderating, but my body was beginning to break.
As the days passed, feelings of despair began to settle over me. Something had to be done. In the CICU unit I was alone and scared; sleep was almost impossible. The nights seemed to last forever…minutes felt like hours. My body hurt, and my mind was awash with uncertainty. All I could do was wait for the sunlight and pray that the merciful Father would hasten its arrival. During the darkest hours I would really struggle. Would the night ever end? Didn’t I have faith? Maybe I needed more. All I could do was cry out to God, over and over. I would make up lyrics and quietly sing the words. These are a few that I recall:
When the cold and dark
Of the never-ending night
Afflict my aching spirit,
When my pain and the
Loneliness in heart begin
To overwhelm my mind,
Where is my faith, my trust?
But in you oh God.
The only thing I would ask of you,
Dear Lord, is help,
Help me make it through the night.
Almost seven years later and the storm still rages. Four years ago, my cardiologist thought I was dying and said, “Sometimes we just have to play with the cards we’ve been dealt.” I politely nodded and thought about the scripture before us. Christians have a better view. They “find joy in storms.”
Look at the preceding verse of our text: “Never give up…and serve the Lord” (Rom. 12:11, CEV). They give us Paul’s three-point lesson for living the Christian life. These were helpful for my survival.
1. Believers should prepare for tribulations. This is not a matter of if, but when. Every life will see a storm at some time. We are to “glory in tribulations” (Rom. 5:3) because they serve a purpose. Our suffering leads to greater things such as endurance, character and ultimately hope.
In the Biodome Research Experiment, a controlled environment was built in a glass bubble. It was complete with air, water, people, animal and plant life. Everything was okay for a while, until the trees began to topple. They forgot to add wind to the environment, which the trees required to develop the roots necessary to hold the trees in place. Every life requires a little wind to strengthen it.
2. Hope sustains the Christian through the darkest storm and is always cause for gladness. I pity the one who stares into the ominous clouds of a life-altering storm without hope. Try to imagine a small boat adrift on the storm-tossed waters of a great sea. Without an anchor, its rudder is useless, the sail is shredded, and it will soon be swallowed by the depths. But hope is our “anchor of the soul” which is securely held in heaven (Heb. 6:19).
Things upon this earth cannot move the man of faith because heaven holds him. When tragedy strikes by some accident or the doctor’s prognosis, we have another and better resource. Against medical advice, some go for a second opinion. Believers seek not a second opinion but a better option which is God. Heaven can overturn all earthly pronouncements. Do we wonder that our hope should make us rejoice?
3. Prayer provides solutions for the pain and should never be abandoned. Prayer connects the Christian to the control room and thus access to the greatest source of power for defeating any problem (Phil. 4:6-7). Our prayers go up and heaven responds with the mightiest of known and unknown forces (Rev. 8:3-5). Why wouldn’t we pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17)? Jesus taught his disciples to “keep on praying and never give up” (Lk. 18:1).
We should never discount prayer. People of the world will exhaust their bank trying to defeat a medical problem and will not pray. Does that make any sense? What of the Christian that only makes prayer an option of last resort? It is our greatest and most effective option. We should use it first and use it often.
Take comfort, dear brother and sister. Our justification gives us hope. This hope is not intended for a vacuum, but to be realized and tried in the rough and tumble experiences of our lives.
Jesse and his wife, Vicki, were former missionaries in Trinidad, W.I. He has ministered with churches in Mississippi and Alabama and is currently a member and former elder at the Madison congregation.