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20. Proper prayer is not asking for what you want, but discovering ...

(written 14th August 2020).

Proper prayer is not asking for what you want, but discovering what God wants in everything that is happening, including facing up to your own death

‘Proper’ means ‘real, genuine, accepted, satisfactory, true and actual’. ‘Prayer’ according to the same dictionary[1] means, ‘words a person says when they speak to God’ and ‘the activity of speaking to God’.

Personally I think this second definition is only part of what prayer really is. I find more and more of my prayer is not talking to God but listening to Him and thinking about what He wants, and is doing, towards it. May be thinking with the Holy Spirit is a recovery of an older Christian practise of meditation?

Even non-religious people speak to God in their times of personal desperation or tragedy. Brenda and I have wondered why, during the present Covid-19 world pandemic, more folk (certainly in the UK where we live) seem happy to let scientists, politicians, and those on the medical front lines combat it, without apparently once asking what God may be doing in, through, and around it? Surely that is always the best question?

Prayer is foreign behaviour to so many. It is a great pity, and those people who don’t pray are to be greatly pitied too. Not praying usually means a person is not a friend of God.

1. Doctors recently twice faced me with my possible death. How then to pray?

Over the last seven weeks separate hospital doctors made me face up to my possible death. The first was as I was admitted to hospital following a suspected stroke. I was given a test for Covid-19 which proved negative. I also have a routine copy document headed, “Treatment Escalation Plan and Resuscitation Decision Record”. In an interview with the admissions doctor I had to choose, in the event of things going badly wrong, between the hospital doing all they could to keep me alive or ‘DNACPR’, which means Do Not Attempt Resuscitation. I took the chance to share with the doctor I am a committed Christian and I am perfectly ready to die at any time with the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour. (In the

copy I have I notice he simply ticked the ‘No’ box and left out the bit about Jesus!).

The second doctor who made me think about my death, phoned me about treatment for long-term nerve pain I have had for 11 years. ‘With the current Covid-19 pandemic’, he said, ‘I must warn you that this type of steroid injection will make you much more susceptible to succumbing to the effects of the virus should you get it’. (This is in addition to the dangers of being injected alongside the carotid artery in my neck). ‘Do you still want to go ahead with it?’ I replied in the affirmative as the pain has previously been controlled by the 18 of these injections I have had since 2009. The last one ‘ran out’ of effectiveness while the hospital was closed for such routine treatments in February, being on high alert for Covid-19 patients whose lives of course were threatened.

For me as a Christian my certain hope of heaven with my Saviour and Lord Jesus is something I long to come to fruition. I don’t shy away from it. I do not fear what happens when this life stops for me. Jesus is my Rock solid Hope. I pray to keep close to Him through my living and my dying.

Sadly it is often the way for Christian funerals these days to become celebrations of the life of the deceased person. I want mine not to look back, but to look forward to what heaven is like for me and for others like me – who are saved by the grace of God from deservedly ending up in hell for living as if God does not exist.

When I listen to God about eternity after this life I know better how to pray for everyone in my family, my friends and neighbours, and even for people I’ve never met.

2. Facing future lifelong disability 24/7. What to pray?

Since the removal of my cancerous voice-box in 2006 I have been very thankful to have a succession of voicing-valves that give me limited ability to speak. Most people say my voice is artificial, quite quiet but very clear. I am grateful to God, and to our National Health Service here in U.K., for these.

However, over the nearly 14 years since my laryngectomy operation the fistula containing the valve between my oesophagus and my trachea has

migrated. Oddly my losing a couple of stone in weight may have caused this. It has meant the air and water tight seals are not as good as they once were. My Speech Language Therapist changed me on to a shorter valve, then a narrower valve, in her efforts to help me. Each lasted a only little while.

Once again, just as the hospital was reconfigured for Covid-19 responses, my own needs unexpectedly became worse.

When liquid squeezes into your lungs you automatically try to cough it out. When you cannot drink fluids, or even swallow your limited saliva, without head aching bone shattering coughs breaking out, life is not fun for you, nor for your longsuffering wife. We testify to that being true.

I was allowed into hospital for three valve changes, each new one only lasting a month instead of the usual six. (Hospital policy is to change valves every six months). Each time the SLT was dressed in her full PPE[2] and I had to be masked walking through the hospital until inside the treatment room with her. I was not worried about this, more concerned that I would unintentionally bring something bad to those who were treating me so kindly, generously and well.

28th July I was given a different type of valve – new to me. It is an Atos Provox VEGA, made out of a stiffer material and very small. To date it is working perfectly. I am so grateful. It has a tiny ledge on the oesophagus side to help stop pooling liquid and food particles collecting on top of it. A fascinating swallow Xray showed up that issue.

I struggle with this disability even when everything is behaving as it should. I find it hard to pray and “give thanks in all circumstances”,

1 Thessalonians 5:18, which Christians like me are supposed to, when it isn’t.

I have to remind myself that my Father God in heaven has kept me alive since the cancer was first diagnosed in November 2006. He has used me still in my different, unplanned (by me) life, and He will do so for as long as He plans. It is not my decision when this life ends for me, (nor is it actually the hospital doctor’s though he may think it is). That is only for my Heavenly Father God.

“… it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, …” Hebrews 9:27.

Like all others Christians I must live the life God has given to me. I cannot control what that life consists of, but I can control – and must control, with God the Holy Spirit’s help – how I react and respond to anything that arises. I can and do pray, near the beginning of each and every day:

‘My Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, today may I always do whatever shows You off in the best light to the people I see’.

3. When ministry seems to be declining for me. Which way to pray?

Over the first six months of 2020 Brenda and I have watched the number of people using our website, and the number of pages downloaded from it, decrease. I admit I probably don’t pray about the outreach of our website as much as I should. My poor excuse is there are always so many prayer requests from friends and other situations for me to take on board. I use my daily Quiet Time prayers for people who face many a worse and bad situation. I do pray each month as I write a new article for the website[3] or decide which of our books/articles to feature this time around.

But I often wonder, is it all worth it? It is almost a year since I stopped editing, writing, fund-raising for and publishing books for the Sudan/South Sudan. I have also stopped writing a BiMonthly Encouragement article to just over a hundred Christian leaders and colleagues ministering to their own people, after 110 issues. Our website is the only specific ministry we have kept on and the numbers say it is shrinking quickly. 1,288 individual visitors per month has dropped to 817. 8,099 is the highest number of pages downloaded per month, with July 2020 seeing just 5,339.

I know numbers are not everything, but it is hard not to be discouraged reading these visible signs. Questions arise which are hard to answer such as, ‘Has my time for ministry in Sudan come to an end?’. Visiting and residency between 1979 and 2020, with a legacy of about 100,000 printed books, DVDs and CDs will doubtless minister to some because of God’s amazing grace. But battling with a body and a mind that both do less without some complaining is challenging at the best of times and, I judge myself, tends to produce poorer quality results.

Brenda and I are both ‘into retirement’. We try to develop practical

interests and hobbies. Concurrently we want to remain useful to our Lord Who has done so very much for us over nearly 50 years together.

In our prayers we try to listen to God, to be open to everything He still plans for us. We want to be ‘nudged’ into His will everyday He gives to us. We watch for people He brings into our orbit whom we may be able help a bit.

We are not worth nothing the older we get, although society may think so. I was reminded recently that I will always be worth what God paid for me. My Lord Jesus lived His entire life on earth with a death diagnosis over Him, so He knows what it is like. I write as a dying man to dying readers. I believe there is a Jesus way of dying. That is the way I want with all my heart to follow until we Christians can be really alive, for ever, in God’s heaven.


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