Words of Scripture comforted me continually in the days leading up to the surgery. “Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT).
Many times I had read those words; several times I had preached about those verses. They don't really hit home, however, until you are in pre-op, trying to figure out how to tie up the fashionable gown they give you so that nothing shows that God didn't intend. Nurses crowd around you, asking you details about home life you'd rather not answer, but you do. Someone comes around asking you to sign a release that says, in essence, that if you die during the surgery, it's your fault because you should have known better than to let us operate in the first place. For a brief time you're alone. You've been stuck, prodded, measured, weighed, evaluated, poked, plugged in, and decontaminated so that all that's left to do is start cutting. It's at that moment that you need the peace of God to guard your heart and mind through Christ Jesus. And it's at that precise moment that He does.
His peace was there before, too, although I may not have noticed it as I should. The night before, cleansing the places where wounds would be made the next day, He was there with me, noticing me. What a gift to know that the God of the universe notices me doing such a simple thing, which really wasn't so simple because of its implications. On the morning of surgery, on the drive to the hospital, I am surrounded by my wife and a family friend who offered to be our chauffeur, knowing neither myself nor my wife would be in suitable shape to get behind the wheel of a car. We talked and laughed as though we were driving for an ice cream instead of a surgery. That, too, is the peace of God guarding us.
Finally, at the appointed hour, the patient suitably IV'd and shaved in places I never thought of, the anesthetic moments from putting me out of the surgeons' misery, I ask to lead the surgical team in prayer. I don't know if they were believers or just granting a last request, but they bowed their heads behind their surgical masks and allowed me to ask the Lord to be in charge of all that was about to transpire.
Actually, God had never not been in charge of what was going on. My prayer was only an affirmation of the fact that faith helps us to understand: that God is always there even in ways we can't understand. I would have preferred, and in fact had prayed, that I wouldn't need the surgery. God heard my prayer, but maybe He wanted someone to pray with the surgical team at least once. Maybe God knew that I needed Philippians 4:6-7 to come alive to me in a very real way, and there was only one real way to accomplish that. Maybe He just wanted to see me try to tie up that hospital gown. For whatever reason, God said the surgery had to happen. I know that because it did happen, and that means God had to allow it.
God's peace does exceed our understanding. I am realizing that now at home while I recover over the next few weeks from that two-hour surgery. He saw to it that flowers and a get well card were waiting on my porch when I got home from the hospital that day, left there by the hands of a friend my wife and I had sat by a couple of years previously in a hospital after part of one leg and part of his remaining foot had to be amputated during a July weekend. It wasn't how any of us had planned to spend that weekend, but that night my friend also had the peace of God exceed all his understanding, as he joked and talked about the upcoming season of a favorite sports team while still not knowing how he was going to learn to walk again. He did learn to walk again, and is working in a physically demanding job again, and he praises God every chance he gets. One chance he got was to leave some flowers and a card on my porch.
God takes notice of us. The psalmist reminds us that, “When I look at the night sky and see the work of Your fingers – the moon and the stars You set in place – what are people that You should think about them, mere mortals that You should care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4 NLT). The God of the moon and the stars and of the night sky and the noon day sun notices what you and I go through and He cares. He has perfect peace about it, and wants us to have that same peace, which in itself is beyond all our understanding when we consider many of our circumstances, fearful as they ought to be. Jesus reminds us in John 14:27 that, “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid.”
He proves those words true to the man looking for work in a down economy and to the woman trying to be all things to all people and feeling she is falling short. He proves those words true to the addict and to the convict and to the minister in front of his congregation of broken lives and contrite hearts.
And Jesus proved His words true to this pastor in a gown that wouldn't tie lying on a surgical table I couldn't avoid. And He is still proving His words true as my wounds mend and my body heals. My spirit is stronger than it was before, my faith is revived and my soul is now able to lift more than my muscles. God still makes house calls; all we have to do is be willing to call on Him.
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