Sometimes what you fear the most actually happens, but oftentimes, something remarkable happens in those moments. It’s almost as if God is saying, you can trust me! The very worst has happened, but I am worthy of your trust.
Nearly thirty years ago, my Daddy had open heart surgery, the very thing he feared the most. This is his story…
“What I feared has come upon me,
What I dreaded has happened to me.”
I first recall hearing a reference to this verse when in was in Bible college in 1972. One of my teachers made the statement, “What I feared the most happened to me”. She had greatly feared the death of her husband and it happened. But she also testified that the Lord was gracious and stood with her and strengthened her in her time of trial. In 1972, she was happily married again to a fine Christian businessman.
The second time I heard reference to this verse was at a Bible seminar in 1980, where the speaker said, “What you fear the most could very well happen”. Both these incidents were ingrained into my mind. I never forgot these words- “What I dreaded has happened to me”.
In the Fall season of 1981 (at the age of 40), I was on the roof of our home cleaning the fallen leaves out of the rain gutters, when I experienced my first chest pain. I was surprised and wondered why it happened. As I kept working another slight pain occurred a few minutes later. Every few minutes there was a slight sharp pain like someone was pinching me on the inside. I was now getting a little frightened.
For the next three months, I kept this to myself. I was experiencing these chest pains every 5 to 10 minutes. Finally, I told my wife, Carol what was happening. She encouraged me to see a doctor, someone I have always tried to avoid.
After much persuasion and encouragement from my good wife who had been a nurse, I reluctantly went. After all kinds of tests, from wearing a heart monitor for 24 hours to a stress test, they found nothing wrong but slightly high blood pressure for which I was placed on medication.
However, for the next nine years (from 1981 to August 1990), I experienced some kind of chest pain or discomfort almost every day. During those nine years, I ministered to quite a few men who had heart problems and eventually open heart surgery. So I was close to the problem, hearing and learning much about open heart surgery. And these words of Job kept coming to my remembrance, “What I dreaded has happened to me”.
I feared open heart surgery.
I could never go through that, I thought.
This couldn’t happen to me.
During those nine years of chest pains, I had a twofold experience. On the one hand, I believe I was drawn closer to my Lord and my Savior, Jesus Christ. There were times of sweet fellowship with the Lord who was faithful and stood with me and I know it was the loving hand of God.
However, on the other hand, this good experience was not always easy. There were times of fear, frustration, discouragement, and times when I longed to be free from this affliction. There were times when I prayed earnestly and fervently with tears to be healed instantly. The answer didn’t come in my way or my time, but it would come in God’s way and God’s time.
During those nine years, I kept most of what was happening to myself. I shared some things with my wife and children but not much. In 1987, I realize now that I began to experience angina pains. I continued to fulfill my ministry, but I knew that my problem was getting worse, although I didn’t know exactly what was wrong. I thought I might have blockage in my arteries, but I wasn’t sure. The angina pains began to happen more frequently with physical exertion. I could no longer cut the grass or walk a long distance. I continued to pray for strength and healing. I changed my eating habits and lost weight. I wanted to be well, but I didn’t want surgery.
And then this past summer, I was walking in the parking lot, talking to God and I made the most foolish statement I’ve ever made-
“Lord- I can’t go through open heart surgery,
I won’t go through open heart surgery,
I’ll die first, before I’ll go to a hospital.”
But God is so gracious. Our Lord is so patient and long suffering.
On August 19th, God lead me to preach on Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”- “My grace is sufficient for thee”.
On August 24th, we took Janey to Hershey for her ride to school. That night, we talked with Janey’s friend’s mother. Her husband had heart problems. He went to Hershey hospital and had the angioplasty done and was doing well. But she said something that God used to pierce my heart- “We needed him”. I began to think of my family.
On August 26th, God led me to preach on Romans 12. There was a verse in particular that God would drive into my mind- Romans 12:12. “Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing instant in prayer.” That word from God became a source of comfort to my soul.
On August 27th, the pain was getting worse and more frequent. Pain came just sitting. It was time to go. I committed everything to the Lord. I went to see my doctor and asked him to get me into Hershey hospital. The earliest appointment was on August 29th. On August 28th, I experienced a severe pain and I told Carol, “It’s time to go”. She insisted she would drive.
The rest is history. They found severe blockage and I had open heart surgery.
“What I dreaded has happened to me”
But by the grace of God, what I dreaded did not have to be dreaded- because in my weakness, God’s peace and power rested upon me. He deserves the honor and glory for bringing me through this.
You’ve all heard or read the poem “Footprints in the Sand”. As I look back over my experience at Hershey hospital, I see one set of footprints and they’re not mine. Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, carried me all the way through!
What lessons have I learned? Too many to share all with you, but I’ll share two in closing.
- There is nothing too hard for the Lord- He is able to keep us in all situations.
“God does not keep us from trials, but He keeps us in trials.”
- God is never without hope- our God is a God of Hope!
Therefore, we can overcome and endure and never give up.
After what God has done for me, I should never become anxious about anything. God goes before us. The Lord went before me into Hershey hospital. Everything was prepared by God for my coming. The Lord was in control. He turned that “dreadful place” into a haven of rest, peace and healing! I can honestly say “I enjoyed the experience” and God deserves all the glory.
Job said, “What I dreaded has happened to me”. But the Bible says in Job 42:12 that “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.” God has a way of making it up to us. He turns trials into triumph.
If we continue to trust Christ and cleave unto Him, there is hope, there is victory, there is prosperity in our inner most being.
“Therefore, my brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials and temptations” (James 1:2), knowing this, that God is working for our good and for His glory!
When Isaiah saw Jesus as the divine King, it put an end to his self-righteous pride. It put an end to his self-protecting anxiety. It put an end to his self-condemning woes. It filled him with Christ-exalting confidence that the divine King is on his throne, and this King will see to it that his purposes are accomplished. Oh, how you and I need to see this divine King! How we need a vision of this divine King to put an end to our pride, our anxieties, our self-condemnation. So we pray: Open our eyes to see you, Jesus, in such a way that your royal glory can’t be unseen. (Nancy Guthrie, The Word of the Lord, pg. 124)
This paragraph from the book my women’s Bible study is currently working through resonated deeply with me when I read it last week. Yesterday, I listened to an episode from the Chatologie podcast where Angie Elkins interviewed Jen Wilkin. The entire interview is worth listening to, but at one point, Jen said something about how we often come to Bible study to learn what the Bible has to say about us, but we should start by seeking what the Bible says about God.
When our focus is on ourselves, we look for what applies to us and we take verses out of context to fit with how we want to view scripture. And then we wonder why we can’t seem to get over our pride, our anxieties and our self-condemnation. But when we fix our gaze on God, our perspective is lifted from our circumstances and we begin to see all things from the viewpoint of what God can do rather than living under the hopelessness and helplessness of what we know we are incapable of doing on our own.
There are many times I wish that I could unsee things, so this prayer of Nancy Guthrie continues to ring true in my heart.
Open our eyes to see you, Jesus, in such a way that your royal glory can’t be unseen.
My “one word” for the year is “inclinations” and as I ponder these things, I’m praying that I will be inclined to consistently seek to know God’s character and his heart before I race ahead to what I want to learn about myself.
What has God been teaching you?!!
I was a newlywed, married to the youth pastor when an older woman in our church made this comment…
You make brownies for every event!
Up until that moment, I felt pretty good about my contributions to our church events. I had never had a desire to bake during my growing up years, so my experience was minimal when I married my husband. But I had discovered that I could actually make a pretty spectacular pan of brownies and they were always gone quickly when I took them anywhere.
The truth was that while they were my go-to item, I made other things too, so this off-the-cuff comment by a woman I respected cut me down. I felt like I had been judged and found wanting. I stopped making brownies for awhile. A long while!
It’s amazing how words and opinions can wound deeply. I know for a fact that this woman never meant to hurt me. In her mind, she was simply making an observation, but her words hurt me nonetheless.
I made brownies for a Valentine’s Day party that we hosted yesterday and her words came back to me. This time, the memory made me laugh, because I have been married for over twenty years now and my experience in baking AND in church events is extensive. I’m no longer wounded by her words and if an occasion calls for brownies (which this one most certainly did!), then I will make the brownies.
But I’ve stopped “making brownies” in other areas of my life.
I’ve stopped writing frequently in this space, because I hear the voices of critics and they are loud at times. And so, I write, but I don’t post.
I haven’t finished editing the book I wrote two years ago, because there is a fear that it is not good enough. No one can laugh at me if the book is never read, right?
I’ve pulled back a bit in friendships, because I keep getting hurt and my heart feels like it can’t take anymore.
But as I consider these areas I am stuck in or have pulled back from, I realize that I am allowing words and actions of others to dictate my words and actions. How foolish is that? There are a lot of people out there who prefer brownies. The simplistic blend of words that come from my fingertips, the life experiences that God keeps pressing me to share and the depth and breadth of friendships I pursue are unique to me. While there are many bloggers and authors and friends out there, isn’t it possible that some might actually prefer me?
The difficulty in caring so deeply for others is that I open myself up to be hurt by words. But I’ve come a long way since I first posted in this blog (nearly a decade!). My book could be written by a better writer, but no one can write it quite like me. The hurts in friendship will continue to weigh heavy, but the joy of friendships without pretense is worth it!
It’s been long enough.
Make the brownies!
It has been a particularly hard season for my family. Since last June, our church building has been undergoing renovations. We are very close to the end of this mammoth project that was expected to be done in October, but here we are on the doorstep of February and we are tired. And cranky.
My husband has worked very hard along with an amazing group of volunteers in our church to make our church building more functional and welcoming to others.
When it is finished, it is going to be amazing. But right now, it’s just hard.
On Monday of this week, I woke up with a cold. I don’t get sick very often, but this one has hit me hard and although I’m starting to feel a little better, it has not been the easiest of weeks. I found myself speaking out of anger to my children and becoming easily frustrated. I know the reason why my behavior was less than stellar, but when we read 1 John 1 as a family a couple of days ago, my heart was convicted when we came to 1 John 1:9- “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” ( (in)courage Devotional Bible, CSV). Even though I had excuses, the truth was that I was sinning against my children when I yelled at them unfairly and when my selfishness was abundant.
And so this morning, we tried something new. When it comes to our relationship with God, my husband and I are intentional about reading God’s Word on our own and with our family. We place a emphasis on prayer and scripture memorization. We talk frequently about how knowing Christ and bringing glory to God should be our heart’s desire and we teach our children how to pursue Christ. When our kids sin, we pray and ask God to forgive them and we ask forgiveness of one another.
But we don’t confess our sins to each other and as we read that morning, I realized that this was an oversight in our parenting. I was also reminded of this verse in James- “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16 ESV). Each one of us has sin in our lives and areas that we are trying to overcome, but what would happen if we really believed what these verses are saying? That if we recognized, admitted and confessed our sins, Jesus would be faithful to forgive us and change us AND if we prayed for one another, there would be great power in this?!!
And so, we confessed sin to each other. We asked for forgiveness and we prayed for the person to our left.
Then we went on with our day.
A few hours later one of my children asked who had written on a ruler.
The one who confessed the sin of lying earlier in the day said, “I did.” And we rejoiced together, because my child KNEW that had it not been for our prayer time earlier in the day, the response would not have been an honest one!
I did not plan to share this as my “Try Something New Thursday” post. I don’t want anyone to think that our family has it all together, because we most certainly do not. There’s a line of a song we sing in church that says this-
Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone
And live so all might see
The strength to follow Your commands
Could never come from me (All I have is Christ, Sovereign Grace Music)
I resonate so deeply with this verse, because I feel it. The strength to make the right choice to follow God is not something that I am capable of accomplishing on my own. I need Christ. But, oh, to see my child’s eyes light up with joy KNOWING the exact same thing in that moment of honesty! This has been a struggle for my child for a very long time and we have prayed often about it. But the power of confessing sin and then seeing an obvious answer to that prayer was remarkable.
And so, I had to share.
We never know how God might use our efforts and our faithfulness!
Have you tried something new this week?