I have come to believe that the Master, for reasons only he knows with certainty, supplies each of us with our own personal “thorn in the flesh.” We know from scriptural testimony that Paul certainly struggled with his “thorn,” whatever it might have been and we also know that he learned that the Lord’s grace was sufficient for him in dealing with whatever this issue might have been.
Like I said, we all have our thorns.
In my case, at least on a physical level, my thorn for sometime now has been my heart. Back in 1996, at age 47, I reached my first crisis point when, after a minor heart attack, I underwent quadruple bypass surgery. Since that time, I have had several other episodes involving one of the bypass grafts which has been problematic. And then, back in February, 2007, another graft closed, requiring a stint.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may know that it was the major surgery and problems in my early recovery that, along with other events, helped land me on the mission field in China, where I served from 1998-2003. In that case, the thorn that is my heart ended up helping lead me to an area of service that proved to be the most rewarding work I have ever undertaken. As I have written here before, I would have never planned this on my own, but the Holy Spirit took charge of the situation and, as I mustered enough willingness to be obedient to his leadings, my heart problems ended up being a blessing in many ways.
I mention all of this because once again, the thorn has reared its head and, as a result, I have been quite ill for some time now. After months of decreasing energy, increasing shortness of breath, and episodes of dizziness, I ended up in the hospital several weeks back. I was diagnosed with severe Congestive Heart Failure. As it turns out, this was not just an experience of heart failure, but instead, was about as close to checking out as one can get.
When the paramedics took my vital signs, my blood pressure was 90/52 and my pulse was 30. No wonder I was feeling a bit faint. After my hospitalization and subsequent tests, it was discovered that my ejection fraction (those of you who are medical types will know what that means) was 18! Friends, this is not good.
I am home now and feeling much better. I am on quite few new medications and they are evidently helping, but make me feel a bit weak. The doctors, because of the severity of my ejection fraction reading, were not overly optimistic as to prognosis. Still, with proper diet and medication, I should be able to survive.
I would like to take this opportunity to share with you several things that I find highly relevant to the situation at hand. I often find that the Lord gives me his reassurance, his wisdom, and especially, his benedictions through the words of others. For example, when I had the bypass surgery back in 1996, I recall lying in my bed in the hospital, praying for guidance and reassurance. Later, as I opened my Bible for the first time after surgery, it fell open to the following highlighted passage from Proverbs Four –
Keep watch over your heart, for therein lie the wellsprings of life…
This passage became, and still is, a foundational principle in my life. And it goes without saying that I am not just talking about my physical heart, although that is a part of it. When scripture talks about the “heart,” it is most often referring to that deepest part of ourselves – the part of ourselves that incorporates our mind, our emotions, our will, and, to some extent, our spirit. In essence, our heart is our point of divine connection. No wonder we need to keep watch over this vital aspect of our being.
As I was in the early days of recovery from this latest problem, the Holy Spirit brought before my eyes the following words, written by Stephen A Macchia in his excellent book, Becoming a Healthy Disciple. I want to take this opportunity to share these life-giving words with you, for I think they explain the essence of the path of Christian spiritual formation in a very straightforward, comprehensible manner. Macchia writes:
When we discover that our hearts are broken and contrite, we come to the Lord with an earnest desire to repent of sinfulness. It’s out of this repentant heart that we find redemption in Christ. We are redeemed because of this sacrificial love on our behalf expressed in his death on the cross and his resurrection to eternal life. Because of his everlasting redemption, we are reconciled – brought into right relationship with God through Jesus Christ – and that reconciliation allows us to call God our heavenly father. As new creatures in Christ, we walk through this life in the power of the Spirit as regenerate people, learning, growing, and becoming what he intends for us.
A healed heart becomes a renewed heart as we walk from repentance to redemption to reconciliation to regeneration. Our hearts are healed at the point of conversion, and they become healthy as we walk through life as Christian disciples.
I think Macchia has presented a marvelous summary here and I encourage you to spend time reflecting on his words, maybe a few phrases at a time over a period of a couple of weeks. This is what I have been doing and the results have been most edifying on many levels.
Then, of course, the heart is central to my focus now. How about you?
L. Dwight “Mick” Turner