It was an extraordinary experience for me. It’s been on my mind a lot lately and when I think of it, I feel awe. And so I should because what I describe was a surprise visit from heaven.
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, my predecessor, has just retired and I was in the midst of the biggest challenge of my life, when an even greater struggle confronted me. Four weeks after I had assumed my role as senior minister at Marble, I was hospitalized for major surgery.
I wanted to pray more than anything, but couldn’t. I tried but was unable to make even the feeblest prayer. I was numb.
I dreaded most the recovery room time. I have terrible memories of a previous experience—the discomfort of tubes and needles, recurring pain, the noise of machines and complete disorientation of time and place in the windowless room.
But something remarkable happened that made me amnesic to the days in the recovery room. I remembered nothing of what I had so disliked before. It was all blank except for a brief five-minute interval.
I remember seeing at the foot of my bed an Episcopal priest, dressed and ready to go home, who had undergone the same operation several days before me. He held an open Bible and asked if he might read the 40th Psalm.
“I waited patiently for the lord,” he read. “He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet on a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.”
I remember thanking him and watching him walk off. Then I returned to peaceful oblivion for two more days.
If I had prayed I would say that God answered my prayers with my absence of memory and the gift of the priest’s most appropriate Psalm. But I couldn’t say that, as I had not prayed!
The wonder of it was that five-minute interval. This was an answer to prayer – the prayers of others. Only later did I learn that my colleague Dr. Florence Pert had organized a 72-hour prayer vigil for me. People had prayed for me around the clock. God responded to their prayers by letting me know I had not been abandoned. It was, if you will, a visit from heaven with God demonstrating His faithfulness.
My response to all of this? I believe in the power of prayer. And as I now face another period of healing, I believe in it as never before.
[T]he Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit. ~ Romans 8:26-27