(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)
It was Saturday, April 7th, 1973. I remember that date clearly because it was the night before our daughter was born. I had been called to pastor the First Baptist Church of Johnsonburg, Pennsylvania just six months earlier, my first pastorate. Hope and I moved into the parsonage two blocks down the hill from the church. That April evening, she was very near delivery of our first child. I left her at the parsonage around 10 pm and walked up to the church to practice delivery of the next morning’s sermon. As I was preaching the sermon to a congregation of empty pews, Hope poked her head into the sanctuary and nervously stated, “The pains are two minutes apart!” I grabbed the sermon copy off the pulpit and ran down the vestibule stairs following my wife to where she had parked our 1963 Plymouth Fury. Saint Mary’s hospital was about 9 miles away over the mountian following Route 255. Heading over the peak and down the other side, I glanced at the speedometer – 110 miles per hour! “I’d better slow down,” I muttered to myself. But I didn’t want to help deliver our baby on a dark road in the middle of the night! However, we made it to Saint Mary’s Hospital, and Bethany was born just after midnight on April 8th!
But there was a problem – or several problems:
- Hope had a mild condition of what may be called Purpura (lack of platelets in the blood that can cause abnormal clotting). A person with severe purpura can bruise easily, capillaries breaking under the skin with the mere touch of a finger on an arm. Hope’s case was so mild that it went undetected.
But under the stress of the birth, when the doctor ordered her to “Push!” she didn’t hold back, and capillaries burst! The reddish dots that covered her face and chest made it look like she had a bad case of measles!
What the doctor didn’t know at the time was that my wife had just burst a thousand capillaries in her brain! She had a thousand mini strokes! Hope was experiencing debillitating headaches! She could not hold her eyes open to the light or lift her head from the pillow without excruciating pain!
- The doctor did not figure out the problem at first. He could not even tell me if my wife was going to live! And there I was, with a brand new infant daughter, a wife who might be dying, new in town, and far from family! We felt we had little close support, though the church folks tried.
- Our daughter had been conceived when I was in Bible seminary. We had no medical insurance! Day after day Hope was in a private hospital room, away from light and noise; and Bethany was in the nursery where I could only see her through the class partition.
My pastor’s salary was $96.15 a week, with housing and utilities provided by the church. We had learned to get by on that amount. But what we owed to the hospital was increasing by a hundred dollars a day – a lot of money back in 1973!
For three days after our daughter’s birth, I lived and moved as if I was in an overpowering fog! As a pastor, I tried to do what needed to be done, but my heart was not in it! I was overwhelmed with worry and sadness!
One of the men in our church, Alan, suffered a debilatating stroke some months before I arrived at First Baptist. He had been very active as a church member, and in general happy in an acticve life, but the stroke had left him discouraged and depressed! I would visit Alan and his wife Dorothy often those first six months, trying to encourage and uplift this now sad man. One of the Scripture portions I had committed to memory months before was Philippians 4:6 and 7:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
I shared these two verses more than once with Alan and Dorothy, explaining how it applied to life, especially to the hard times of life, such as that which Alan was experiencing:
- Verse 6 – “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything….” A negative followed by a positive – this covers anything we might face in life…..even a debilatating stroke!
- Verse 6 – “…by prayer and supplication….” Prayer, in this case, covers praying for the needs of others; while supplication means praying for one’s own needs!
- Verse 6 – “…with thanksgiving….” We are instructed to thank God in everything! Thank God even when it hurts? Why?
✞ God’s purpose for all Christians is “...to be confomed to the image of His Son...” Jesus Christ! (Romans 8:29 – see also II Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 3:21). ✞ Romans 5:3 through 5 (Bible in Basic English) tells us that we grow good and Godly attributes through troubles: And not only so, but let us have joy in our troubles: in the knowledge that trouble gives us the power of waiting; and waiting gives ex- perience; and experience, hope: and hope does not put to shame; because our hearts are full of the love of God through the Holy Spirit which is given to us. ✞ James 1:2 through 4 teaches us much the same thing: My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
The only One perfect and complete is Jesus Christ! So various trials, when dealt with properly, make us more and more like Jesus!
- Verse 6 – “…let your requests be made known to God….” We are to thank God when we make our requests, even before we have an answer to (or a reason for) what we are facing!
Verse 7 – “…and the peace of God…,” which comes from God only, so He is the only One who can give it!
- Verse 7 – “…which surpasses all understanding….” By all our human comprehension, we should not have peace in the midst of what we are particularly facing!
- Verse 7 – “…will guard your hearts and minds….” In Jewish thinking of Bible times, hearts and minds covers all the emotional and mental workings of an individual. That one would be guarded by being held in divine perfect peace!
- Verse 7 – “…through Christ Jesus.” A related bold statement (and also something implied) is found in James 1:17 and 18: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” The implication is that all of God’s good gifts are because of Jesus Christ, as well as through Him! (see Romans 8:31, 32).
I ‘knew’ all this concerning Philippians 4:6 and 7, but in my current situation I was certainly not experiencing, “…the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding…”! I was feeling (and acting) more like a zombie than a dedicated believer held in miraculous peace!
By the end of the third day, when nothing at the hospital had changed, and the doctor still couldn’t give me assurance that my wife was going to live, I had had it! I knelt at our bedside, and laid my Bible on the bed, opened to Philippians 4:6 and 7. I read those two verses again, and then I battled it out with God!
God, here I am with Hope and our baby in the hospital, and I don’t even know if my wife is going to live! How am I supposed to take care of my newborn daughter by myself? And we don’t have insurance, and the bills are piling up! And, God, I’m new here, in town and at this church. I real- ly don’t know anyone very well. And family is far away. Lord, I have been telling Alan about this verse, and how one can have peace in hard situations. But God, I don’t have any peace! And if this isn’t true for me also, why is it in the Bible? God, if You don’t give me Your “...peace which surpasses all understanding...,” I am never going to tell anyone about this verse again!
And I battled on for about the next hour!
Finally, I crawled into bed……and just lay there and grinned! God’s peace had so encompassed me, that it didn’t matter if Hope lived or died! Of course I wanted my wife to live, but I knew God was in control, and He was going to take care of me!
The next several days, I went about my pastoral duties and my family life with a light heart, confident God was taking care of everything! And…
- He did give my wife back to me! She had a long recuperation from severe headaches and feeling exhausted. But we will celebrate next November 53 years of a wonderful marriage!
- Our hospital bill was $800! But the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board of our denomination stepped in and paid half the bill!
- I have shared with many people in many situations that it is true – the promise of “…the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus….” And God’s promises can be trusted!
But sometimes you just have to battle for it!