that you may know…his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead… (Ephesians 1:18b-20)
The day after my first appointment with my head and neck oncology surgeon I wrote the following verse into my prayer journal: “…He rescued me because He delighted in me.” (Psalm 18:19b) Almost every day I write a verse or two of Scripture into my prayer journal after reading through several passages from the Bible. As I read each passage I’m listening, intuitively, for a verse or a phrase that strikes a chord with whatever happens to be on my mind. Sometimes a thought or concern lies below the level of my consciousness and it remains just out of my conscious reach until a verse I’m reading strikes me in such a way that I become aware of it. After recording the verse, I then pray about the thought or concern the verse gave voice to, using the words from Scripture as the basis for my petition. Finally, I wait for God’s response to my prayer – and if I sense one – I write that into my journal, too.
This daily spiritual discipline took on new meaning and urgency for me after I was diagnosed with cancer – especially after I received the news that removing the tumor would likely result in permanent disfigurement – and that the chances of my long-term survival were not above fifty percent. Each day I would find something in the passages I was reading that spoke to me on a very deep level. (I’ve listed those verses at the end of this post). This is one of the ways Scripture – which the author of the letter to the Hebrews describes as “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (4:12) – can function in our lives: uncovering the yearnings of the heart and directing us in how to pray about them. Although the biblical characters (Gideon, King David and the apostle Paul) from each of the verses I copied into my prayer journal faced a situation different from mine, their words gave me confidence to pray for the kind of deliverance they experienced when they turned to the Lord in a time of great need. So as I used these verses of Scripture in my prayers I dared to believe that the Lord could restore my health.
However, as I mentioned in my previous post, each time I was given a new piece of medical information, I then would have to wrestle anew with my fears and doubts. This was the case on the night after my first appointment with Dr. Weissler. His assessment of my situation from a medical standpoint was so grim (he would have to remove my facial nerve because it ran through the tumor; he would most likely need to remove bone, muscle and skin from the affected area; he could only estimate my chances of survival at fifty percent) that it left me feeling as though I had fallen into a very deep pit.
And although I sensed there was a ladder, of sorts, in that metaphorical pit, which I could use to climb out, I couldn’t seem to find it. Earlier that evening I spoke with my friend Mary, by phone, and she listened with great intelligence as I sorted through my feelings and tried to reconcile God’s promises about healing in Scripture with the report I received that morning at UNC. As the fears and doubts swirled about me I talked about trying to walk in the light of Christ. She then prayed with me as our conversation came to a close. Gil prayed with me also, before I went to bed, and anointed me with oil – a practice rooted in Scripture, which he would observe every night for the next several months.
When I awoke the next morning, I reviewed once more all that Dr. Weissler had said and, by God’s grace, I managed to find something about which I could be hopeful: He would attempt to graft a nerve in place of the one he would most likely need to remove – and although he was not optimistic about the success of a nerve graft (they often fail) I chose, then and there, to believe that the Lord could make it work (or even spare my facial nerve) – as well as defeat the cancer that was threatening my life. I meditated again on the verse from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians which had carried me through the previous weekend: God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us. (3:20). I was asking for a miracle, but I was asking it of the One whom Scripture promised me can do measurably more than I can even imagine. This thought and the verse that supported it was my ladder – a gift from the Holy Spirit – and I placed my feet on its rungs and climbed out of the spiritual pit into which I had fallen.
Now that I had regained my spiritual equilibrium it was time to get to work. Since we had a diagnosis, a surgery date and very specific prayer requests, Gil and I decided to let our Christian friends know what we were up against and ask for their prayers. For much of the day I worked on the email we would send. I was especially eager to get this communication out to our friends from several local churches, my clergy colleagues in my diocese as well as the women I had met just the month before at a retreat for the clergywomen of my denomination. These faithful Christians are not the kind whose response, upon learning about my medical condition, would be to tell me how awful they feel on my behalf. Instead, I knew they would get to work right away and petition the Lord, trusting that prayer is always the best response to any situation because God will hear and act.
So, at 2:44 pm on the afternoon of Tuesday, November 22, my email went out to over one hundred friends, clergy colleagues and family members. And within sixty seconds I received my first reply – it was from my colleague, Brian, in South Carolina: “Will be praying for you, Claudia.” More responses, in the same vein, came within minutes and continued into the evening – and for days to come. Gil forwarded my email to his colleagues at St. David’s School and they responded with the same speed and conviction. These assurances of prayer and commitments to stand with us had a powerful effect on Gil and me. We felt as though we were surrounded by a mighty throng of saints who would support us and bring our cause before the throne of heaven. It was a marvelous feeling.
Next installment: answers to prayers.
These are the verses I wrote into my prayer journal between November 16 and November 25:
Wednesday, November 16: When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.” (Judges 6: 12-16)
Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. (Psalm 9:10)
Thursday, November 17: In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, announce now to the people, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’ (Judges 7:2)
Friday, November 18: And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests… (Ephesians 6:18)
Saturday, November 19: Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. (Philippians 1:18-19)
Sunday, November 20: I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. (Psalm 16:8) I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.” (Psalm 16:2) You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalm 16:11)
Tuesday, November 22: …he rescued me because he delighted in me. (Psalm 18:19b)
Wednesday, November 23: The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Savior! He is the God who avenges me, who saves me from my enemies. You exalted me above my foes; from violent men you rescued me. Therefore I will praise you among the nations O Lord, I will sing praises to your name. (Psalm 18:46-49)
Friday, November 26: I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death… (Philippians 3:10)
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. (Psalm 20:7)