When my heart ought to be rejoicing – and in fact – is rejoicing, I am also troubled. This post may be a bit long and poorly edited, but its late – I haven’t really slept in two days – but I desperately need to share my heart.
I visited with two folks at our regional teaching hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center today. They were there under very different circumstances. I want to briefly tell you their stories.
In August of this year our church family along with others from all over New England gathered at our old campground in White River Junction where christians have been gathering for over 130 years. Three year old Michael Vose is usually a bright-eyed, beaming little boy with long, wavy golden curls covering his head. However, he did not feel well during the entire week of camp. We later found out why.
Michael continued to be lethargic and without his usual bounding energy into the fall. Finally, his local doctors recommended that he be taken to Dartmouth Hitchcock for more careful study. Soon after checking him into the hospital Michael suffered several violent seizures and slipped into a coma, and on a Saturday night in September his parents learned that the doctors had found a large tumor on his brain stem.
This 3 year old cherub has brain cancer.
On Sunday morning the team of doctors gathered with his parents and grandparents to tell them that they were fighting a fight they could not win. In their opinion, Michael will not survive this battle. Already, the monitors he was connected to were showing less and less brain activity. They stood helpless, watching their son die. My son Bryan, who pastors with me was with the family as they received this heart wrenching prognosis. As I was preparing to head over to the church to prepare for morning worship, Bryan called me to share this terrible news. Even though I could not see him, I could hear the agony in his voice as he struggled through his tears to give me an accurate account of what was happening. He suggested, and I agreed, that the church should not hold church as usual, but that we should suspend our normal program and call the church to prayer. After a brief time of worship, I came down from the pulpit to stand on the floor with the congregation and shared with them the heartbreaking phone call I had received earlier that day.
As hot tears ran down my face, I called the church to prayer. You see, we are a congregation that truly believes that the fervent prayer of the righteous avails much. We still believe in miracles. We still believe God heals. And we don’t believe that doctors, as gifted as they may be, get the last word. At that moment, the church as one bowed before a holy God and for more than an hour we cried out to God on behalf of Michael Vose. It was not pretty. It was not eloquent. It was not orchestrated. It was heart wrenching, passionate, desperate, pleading, weeping until snot runs out your nose warfare prayer for one of our own. Old men, pre-teen girls, moms, grandmas, hardened laborers, grey hairs, brown hairs, red hairs, and no hairs on our faces before God crying with the most incredible sense of urgency one can imagine.
After more than an hour, I sensed that the church had wrung its heart out before the Throne so we sang a chorus and slowly people drifted out of the church and traveled home. There was a heavy, but determined spirit in that group of people as I encouraged them not to stop – to keep on praying; to do battle for Michael’s life.
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. Matthew 11:12
Sometimes the urgency of a moment demands urgent, even violent prayer that clashes with the kingdom of darkness and demands that it back off. That was the prayer the church entered into that Sunday morning in September.
Just about the time our congregation was parting company with many tears still flowing, Michael Vose woke up. The brainwave monitors came to life as he opened eyes and began to interact with his mom and dad. I believe that morning that the spirit of death was confronted and pushed back by violent, forceful prayer of a congregation of men, women, and children who refused to let go.
The battle is not over. Michael has just completed his third round of chemo, but the tumors have been shrinking and soon he will move to Boston for targeted radiation as the battle wages. The fact that he is still alive is a miracle and he continues to be buoyed up by a global network of prayer. At last reckoning, somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 people have declared their intent to pray for Michael. Throughout the United States, Europe, Australia, the far east, and Africa multiplied thousands of people, of every tongue and color and culture are warring for his life. Michael Vose is carrying the weight of the battle, but he has a massive support team ready to battle with him. That’s story number one; there is another.
On Monday afternoon of this week, my wife and I listened with interest as the emergency scanner in our kitchen got very busy as local emergency services were called to a serious accident just across the river in New Hampshire. In an area which has seen a lot of motor vehicle collisions, there was yet another. Three cars were involved but only one person was seriously injured. So seriously that they called for a helicopter to fly down from Dartmouth to rush the injured party to the trauma center there for treatment. As we listened with interest, we breathed a prayer that whoever was involved would survive even as they called for the helicopter and the jaws of life to extricate the female victim from the mangled pile of metal that had been her car. Her injuries were so severe and the shock so great, they ended up sedating her at the scene, effectively putting her into a chemically induced coma to reduce the possibility of greater injury as they transported her to the trauma center. We saw some photos on social media and electronic news and you could tell that it was bad – really bad.
Several hours later, I got a frantic message from one of my closest friends – a pastor that I have worked with for a number of years and a man that I love and respect deeply. I truly consider him to be like a brother. The victim of the car crash was his wife and he was flying up the road some 80 miles to Hanover unsure whether she would be alive when he got there.
My heart sank. We had just had dinner together on Friday night, and what a great time we had – and now Marietjie Chase lay at death’s door. I did the only thing I knew to do – I started to pray. I prayed all night long, sometimes just crying her name out over and over again, hoping to fill the Throne Room of Heaven with Marietjie’s name, if possible to lay siege to heaven on her behalf. Even as I was praying for Marietjie, I was on my computer contacting friends all over the world mobilizing men and women in every time zone where I have influence to prayer. In many parts of the United States, in Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand – I reached out to enlist an army of prayer warriors to stand in the gap for this dear sister and for her husband, Pastor Steve. I don’t think I slept for a minute all night, and when I would doze off, I would wake up speaking her name as if not to allow God to lose sight of her. My prayer was not pretty. It was not eloquent. It was urgent, desperate, warfare prayer as I and many others around the world took up our place on the battle lines for her life.
As soon as I could organize myself this morning I drove to Hanover. I had no idea what I would find, but intercession just kept driving me as I covered the 70 miles or so between the hospital and my house. When I arrived, I went directly to the ICU unit and asked the receptionist to call Steve and let him know I was there. Within a minute, he was in the hall to greet me. I didn’t know what to say, so I just grabbed him and held on for a minute.
He said, “Come with me, you’ve got to see this.” As I walked into to her room in the critical care unit, there was Marietjie, sitting up in a chair, wrapped in a blanket, waiting on her breakfast. She greeted me with a weak, but sincere smile and I just stood there an looked almost in disbelief. The woman had been in a coma from the time she left the accident until around 6:00 a.m. awoke this morning with a headache and some chest pain.
Steve said, “I don’t know what anybody else calls this, but you and I know that we are looking at a miracle.”
Marietjie doesn’t remember anything about the accident. From the time she delivered her last package until she woke up this morning she has no memory. She was flown to the hospital in a helicopter with the utmost urgency and by this morning she looked like someone who might have tripped over a throw rug. I wanted to see Michael Vose and my son-in-law’s mother who was recovering from back surgery, so I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving with Steve and Marietjie and left them for my other visits. She was released from the hospital and back home before I was.
Late this afternoon, as I drove home from Hanover, New Hampshire; bone weary and bleary eyed from no sleep I started to weep, first in joy and then in frustration as I realized that when those of us who love Michael Vose and those of us who love Marietjie Chase were touched by the possibility of losing them something rose up in us and threw us into a full on assault for their lives. We cried, we shouted at God, we moaned with mournful spirits, we threw ourselves at the mercy seat, grabbed hold of the horns of the altar and refused to let go. An urgency of a moment overshadowed us and it drove us into deep, targeted, keenly focused prayer as we cried out for those whose lives we hold so dear.
My frustration began to boil over as I realized that each of us live in proximity to men and women who are going to stand before God someday without Christ, judged by a righteous God, cast into outer darkness for eternity. I shouted out at no one and everyone in the solitude of my automobile, “Where is our sense of urgency for them, for the lost?” “Why will we not fall on our faces and plead with the heavens for their lives?” How can we go to work, or to the market, or to the homes of many of our families day after day after day and not feel the same urgency for them that we do for Michael Vose and Marietjie Chase?”
In our community, we are heartbroken over the problems the opiate crisis is creating. We bemoan publically the problems it causes, the homes that are broken, the children that are left orphaned, and yet if we get ten people out for a monthly community prayer time – we feel pretty good. Where is our urgency for these broken and ruined lives. Truthfully, most of us would be just as happy if they would just go away, disappear so that we don’t have to deal with them and the problems they create. Where is that urgent, desperate, violent prayer for these ruined lives?
I am not disappointed in anyone more than I am myself. It is my own shame that I expose to you now, my own self-loathing that I can assail the heavens for a Michael Vose or a Marietjie Chase, but my warfare for the broken and lost of our community is really no warfare at all – it’s more of a token prayer, prayed without any desperation or urgency at all.
And, what of our nation? Why is there only finger pointing and name calling and political tug of war being waged while we hope that the right political party will rule to support our own personal preference and agenda. Why are we assassinating President Trump rather than praying for him – but not just him – why are we not in fervent, urgent, desperate prayer for Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and Maxine Waters, among many others? Why do our mouths cry out for political victory with far more urgency than for a spiritual revival?
I have been faced with truth about myself today. My urgent, desperate, zealous, violent prayers are clearly reserved for those close to me and for whom I have a tender affection. Perhaps there are many of us who reserve our urgency for those closest and little for those who so desperately need a church that will weep for them, who will wage spiritual warfare for them.
I am ashamed.