Almost two weeks ago, as I was winding down from a week of work, I got a phone call from a member of the church. Within seconds I knew this was a serious phone call. The dad on the other end said: “It’s my son. I think he drowned. He was unresponsive when they pulled him from the water, but the ambulance got him breathing again. We need prayer.”
The severity of the situation became clearer as the minutes and hours passed. His son was intubated and a ventilator did all his breathing for him. When his vitals were stable enough he was life-flighted to Kansas City for specialized care. When the helicopter landed at the children’s hospital I pulled pastoral privilege and was able to steal a couple of moments with him in the ICU praying while dozens of medical staff hurriedly worked on his little body. Then we waited confronted with the inescapable reality of helplessness.
The only thing that can prepare you for a moment like that is a developed trust in the character and promises of God. A thousand anxieties and uncertainties tug you down into despair and threaten whatever sanity seems left — will he survive, can his lungs heal, was his heart too stressed, is there swelling in the brain, will there be infection, is there going to be permanent loss of function, and on and on. That creates a disorienting anxiety and the only rock when everything else is quicksand is who you know God to be in Jesus Christ.
The congregation I’m privileged to pastor, together with many other Christian friends of the family, responded like the church should. Without hesitation people immediately made themselves available, provided meals, helped with childcare, and raised support. But best of all, as we waited to see the results from many tests and what doctors would say, a multitude of people persevered in praying for this boy and his family.
Eleven days after his accident every supplication made to the throne of grace has been answered in mercy and kindness. We watched as the pressure on his support CPAP was dialed back, the percent of oxygen being provided by the ventilator continued to decrees until extubation, x-rays showed his lungs were healing, swelling in the brain was treated, his MRI was “perfect,” and after a week of being sedated and on paralytics he was weaned off and opened his eyes to his mom and dad next to him. And those are just the visible ways God answered prayer but he, no doubt, did invisible work too — comforting, reassuring, bringing peace, and instilling hope.
A cynical and unbelieving world may brush aside the usefulness of prayer. After all, some are made well who are never prayed for and others who are prayed for aren’t healed. For now I’ll let the cynic be, except to say that I don’t want to imagine sitting helplessly in the lobby of a children’s hospital without a confidence in a heavenly Father who, as he works all things for the good of those who love him, promises to work through the prayers of his people. For my part, I'm thankful for a God who answers prayer.
The Psalmist of Israel, taught us to sing: “I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he has inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live” (Psalm 116:1-2). It’s remarkable that while we’re commanded to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength, it’s not a bare and bald command that demands obedience. Yes, God deserves to be loved simply for who he is, but in kindness he adds reasons to love him in every answered prayer. Answered prayers are intended to increase our love to the merciful and generous-giving God. We love him because he has heard.
With his typical style and relish, Charles Spurgeon once preached:
The Christian may do well sometimes to look backward; he may look back to the hole of the pit and the miry clay whence he was dug — the retrospect will help him to be humble, it will urge him to be faithful. He may look back with satisfaction on the glorious hour when first he saw the Lord, when spiritual life for the first time quickened his dead soul […] He must not keep his eye always backward, for the fairest scene dies beyond, it will not benefit him to be always considering the past, for the future is more glorious by far; but nevertheless at times a retrospect may be as useful as a prospect; and memory may be as good a teacher as even faith itself […] The particular objects which you are now to look back upon are the manifold and manifest answers to prayer, which God has given you.
This morning I was texted a picture of this little boy sitting wide-eyed and enjoying his breakfast. It was endearing. As I looked at it I couldn't help but marvel at how many answered prayers were present in that picture – how many "Amens" had been spoken in Jesus' name for the sake of this child. God is good, and he stands ready to hear and act and in acting and hearing to give us more reason to love him: “I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice.”