Well, I wasn’t planning to write a post today but I need to! This is really an important prayer post but I can double it up with an update on how Annie is doing.
Today has been another great day for Annie, highlighted by the fact that this afternoon she went out – yes ‘out’ as in ‘the great outdoors!’ – for lunch with a friend. The silence in the house was unusual but not unwelcome; and by that, I don’t mean that I was glad to get some peace and quiet – far from it! I mean it was such a blessing to know that Annie was able to further explore the new boundaries of better health and a somewhat ‘normal’ day. It’s amazing how quickly you want to push and stretch those boundaries; when life is like this it’s so easy to start talking about what we will do tomorrow, or the next day or even that long-distant ‘next week’ – a phrase that hardly enters our vocabulary of time. Yes, the normal has never seemed so exciting or within our reach, as it has recently. We even wondered about watching a movie at the cinema next week – for us, that feels as grand as planning to embark on a luxury cruise! But greater than these worldly joys is just the prospect of being able to serve Jesus in the things that matter for eternity.
“Only one life, t’will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”
‘Next week’ we’ll be getting ready for a focussed period of outreach to the eastern european farm workers and I am hoping to have the opportunity to declare and demonstrate the gospel which includes speaking at one of the evening events and getting to build relationships with those the Lord leads us to and leads to us. I have to be honest, a few months ago when I thought about that time, I wondered if Annie would be here or not and that made thinking ahead to the outreach mission difficult. And so I am prayerfully asking that the Lord would continue to extend this time of good health, and that perhaps Annie will be able to come along to the outreach week as well. These are the only kinds of boundaries we prayerfully want to push. Yes, there are small things that would be nice to get to do together – like enjoying a few more date nights – but this world isn’t home, it’s far from heaven and every day we get up, Annie and I never want to forget that. Spending such an extended period of time being closer to death than life has drawn (and is still is drawing) Annie and I nearer and nearer to Jesus and our appetite for worldly things has changed (and is changing). So many things of the world that we used to value have lost their appeal – or rather they appear as they really are when compared to eternity and Jesus our eternal king; their shiny veneer cracks and peels easily in the glorious light that radiates from the King of Glory.
Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ – Philippians 3:8
We don’t want to be identified by the car we drive, or the home we live in or the stuff we have or don’t have. The idea of that just repulses me and disguises and betrays who we really are: two sinners saved by the grace of our God, great in love and rich in mercy. What we have, whether little or much – time, energy, health, money, opportunity – we want to at least invest and spend on things that will make a difference in eternity.
What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? – Matthew 16:26
While we have been so thankful for the ‘fun’ things we have enjoyed over the last few days, Annie recently remarked that the after-taste of normality was slightly bitter and we were craving time in God’s Word like a cool glass of water. I liken it to our experience on Sunday evening when I made churros. If you don’t know what churros are, you’ll know what donuts are and there’s not much difference! I began making a big batch of fresh churros for the folk who were watching the England game. After about an hour and a half, piping and frying, sugar coating and sampling, the initial mouth watering excitement of making and eating churros became repulsive and I didn’t want to see or taste another one for a long while! The things of this world are like churros for us right now! I don’t want to dine on a diet of churros for the rest of my life!
Before I get on to the main prayer point it’s worth knowing that today the nurses have decided to take Annie off the main anti-sickness and anti-pain syringe driver in favour of trying Annie on the same but in oral pill format. It’s just a trial which, if it works, will liberate Annie from one of two plastic-shelled shackles that she has been chained to over the last month and a half. My stomach churns again to think about Annie having to go back into the arena of pain and nausea again. It doesn’t matter how much experience we have – or even knowing that she can go back on the driver if it doesn’t work – pain and nausea might have made an exit but the dread of them both lingers on. Before the nurse came we just got on our knees and laid it before the Lord asking once again that we would be drawn ever closer to Him whatever happens. So Annie is now linked only to one syringe driver which is providing the dexamethazone steroid. I guess before there’s any plans to unchain Annie from that syringe driver, they’ll want to establish stability with today’s change.
Now on to the main prayer point…
A couple of weeks ago I asked those of you that love and follow the Lord Jesus Christ if you would pray for our elderly neighbour. Our neighbour, like every other human being in this world, will one day stand before Jesus and give an account for the life He gave her. All that will matter on that great day is whether or not she accepted and received His gift of forgiveness for her sin through repentance and faith. Religion will not save her. Ignorance will not excuse her. While she has life she needs to acknowledge that she is a great sinner in need of a great Saviour. She needs faith to accept Jesus as her loving Saviour and Lord.
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. – 2 Corinthians 10:4
I believe that when God’s people pray, things will happen that make a difference for eternity. Prayer is a spiritual act of warfare against the unseen dark spiritual forces at work in this world. Without Jesus we are spiritually dead and there’s not a doctor or technology that can reverse or resuscitate those who are spiritually dead. That’s why Christianity cannot be classed as religion in the traditional sense of that word. Religion is man’s work. The gospel is God’s work. Prayer unsettles the strongholds of the enemy. Prayer will unlock opportunity to show and share the love of Jesus. Prayer tears down barriers and breaks the enemy’s chains. Prayer exposes the lies of the enemy and creates channels into which the truth and power of the Gospel can flow.
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes – Romans 1:16
So when Christians start to pray for our neighbour, I expect something to happen.
This afternoon, while Annie was out for lunch, my good brother, John, popped round for a chat. Almost as soon as he arrived, our neighbour knocked the front door. She asked me if I knew anything about electrical alarms and explained that her smoke alarm had tripped and been going off for the last hour. She had called the landlord but he had told her someone would come to have a look within 24 hours – not very helpful. Between John and I we had about as much clue as my neighbour’s dog who was being driven insane by the alarm. I had heard the alarm going while I was working but I assumed it was a car alarm going off somewhere else.
Without further ado, I collected two screw drivers from my workshop as a comfort mantle and headed with John to my neighbour’s home. As we walked to her home she said to me: “I can do without any more bad news today…” and so naturally I asked her whether she’d had more bad news recently. She stopped and responded: “I was diagnosed with breast cancer yesterday. The doctor told me I have a tumour the size of a tennis ball.”
She shuffled forward on into the house where the alarm was screeching. I am glad I have John as my witness, because no sooner we put a foot over the threshold of the door, that alarm just stopped; seemingly of it’s own volition. We had a look at it anyway because…well, we’re two guys armed with screwdrivers, and it was literally the least and most we could do! John could see that the alarm was actually connected to the mains which ruled out the possibility of any battery giving up. And let’s face it, even if the battery did just die, the fact that it did so precisely as we walked through the door is a bit bizarre! But it’s not bizarre when you consider that this encounter was unlocked, timed and steeped by and in prayer. You see, as John looked at the alarm, it gave me the opportunity to ask more about how my neighbour was doing since her news, at which point she fought hard to hold back the tears as she tried to put on a tough exterior – the kind of tough exterior that I have mostly known her for. “I’m 85,” she said “…it’s cruel. I don’t want to think about it.” Clearly she was battling with great fear and sadness and – quite unusual for her – she silently fought back more tears. Eighty five years is a long time to live but for our neighbour it wasn’t near long enough and for all that life, she still was not prepared for the valley of the shadow of death. My own heart was torn – with sadness pulling in one direction and hope in the other. You see, my neighbour is exactly where God wants all of us to be. She is needy. She needs the help and power and love and hope and peace that only God can give. She told me she’d even told the doctor to “…shut his mouth…” when he told her about the cancer.
This afternoon when Annie came back I shared the news and Annie went over to spend some time with our neighbour while I prayed.
Is it coincidence that Annie and I have this neighbour laid on our heart? Is this just a coincidence that arises from being neighbours; that Annie has suffered what she is now about to face? Was the timing of that faulty alarm just a freak of electronics? Was the short passing of time between the gardening project, the blog post for prayer and the recent news of her cancer just a chance lining up of disconnected events?
I dare you to say “Yes, it was.”
Our prayers boldly continue to follow the direction of the words Annie said to me this evening: “I really want to see Pearl in heaven one day!” For those of you laying her before Jesus, your Lord and Saviour we encourage you to continue to join us in that prayerful directon.
“Prayer breaks all bars, dissolves all chains, opens all prisons, and widens all straits by which God’s saints have been held.” E. M. Bounds