I would like to reflect on a most significant event that took place sometime in December of 1991. It was one of those life-changing events.
A strong, almost compelling need urged me to re-read books by Catherine Marshall that had gathered dust on our bookshelves for a number of years. We had four of Catherine’s books, “To Live Again,” “Beyond Ourselves,” “Meeting God at Every Turn,” and “Something More.” I probably spent several months visiting with my old friend, enjoying every moment.
One day I came to page 185 of the book “Something More” and was startled by the profound thought in these two paragraphs: “…God is interested in more than our recovery from a specific illness; He is intent on our learning how to obey Him in the totality of life. Back in 1943-1944 my desire for health was the focal point of reality for me. Perhaps so much of me had been packed into that eager longing that here was no room for God to enter and do anything at all so long as my myopic thinking was equating “life” with the physical health I wanted. (This author’s note: the word physical is added to clarify the point).
“Everything turns here on what constitutes life. In the end, God’s answer was infinitely more inclusive than mine. So long as I was assuming that fullness of life corresponded to what I was striving for (healing from tuberculosis), I was actually deifying my own goal. And ‘Thou shalt have no other Gods before me’ had to apply to my own desire-world. There was nothing for it but to ‘put away’ that most beloved of all idols inscribed ‘what I want.’ The scrapping of a treasure is always painful.”
As I read these paragraphs I saw the idol in my own life that I had been catering to. My focus for many years had been the mortgage on our house in Pagosa Springs. It had been such a continuous struggle, such a torment, such a topic of conversation, such a focus of all my thoughts and prayers! I lived with the fairy tale syndrome, “and they paid off their mortgage and lived happily forever and forever.”
Suddenly, as I was reading Catherine’s confession, I saw that I had “missed the boat.” I had missed the fullness of what God had for me. I had deified my own, narrow, small and insignificant goal and as a result had forfeited the presence of God in my life. At that point I was able to repent, to turn around, to shift my attention, my allegiance and give myself to Jesus in a brand new and far more complete way. It was a turning point; it was the turning point; it was my turning point. It was the turning point that is now bringing a fullness, a completeness to my life that is beyond my ability to express in words.
Anything or anyone can become an idol and drive the presence of God from our life. Some idols are more obvious like a house or farm that we desire to be free and clear of debt. Or maybe our idol is a car, boat, title or trophy of some kind. There are other idols maybe not quite as obvious. We may idolize our children, our spouses, our profession, a pastor, priest or some person in the entertainment or sports world. And then there is the idol that Catherine Marshall struggled with that is so subtle, it often escapes detection. How many of us have spent all of our resources - financial, emotional and spiritual on physical and emotional healing for ourselves or someone we love? And in the so doing, we have missed God! We put Him on the “back burner” so to speak. Healing can in fact become our idol!
For those of us, and there are many, who have struggled endlessly with a sick body, a body debilitated by pain, useless or missing limbs, I offer you the hope that is contained in chapter 6 of Catherine’s book “Beyond Ourselves.” The title of the chapter “The Prayer of Relinquishment” sums up the essence of her words. She writes: “I got my first glimpse of it (The Prayer of Relinquishment) in the fall of 1943. The illness that I had mentioned before in these pages had kept me in bed for many months. A bevy of specialists seemed unable to help. Persistent prayer, using all the fight I could muster, had resulted in - nothing.
“One afternoon a pamphlet was put into my hands. It was the story of a missionary who had been an invalid for eight years. Constantly she had prayed that God would make her well, so that she might do His work. Finally, worn out with futile petition, she prayed, ‘all right, I give up. If You want me to be an invalid for the rest of my life, that’s Your business. Anyway, I’ve discovered that I want You even more than I want health. You decide.’ The pamphlet said that within two weeks the woman was out of bed, completely well.
“This made no sense to me. It seemed too pat. Yet I could not forget the story. On the morning of September fourteenth (how can I ever forget the date?), I came to the same point of abject acceptance. ‘I’m beaten, finished. God, You decide what you want for me for the rest of my life…’ Tears flowed. The gift of myself was made with no graciousness.
“The result was as if windows were opened for me in heaven; as if some dynamo of heavenly power had begun flowing, flowing into me. From that moment my recovery began.”
A year after my turning point I was able to make a number of sandblasted signs with these words: “God’s presence is more valuable than God’s presents!” I mean these words with all my heart and I give them to you with all my heart.
We have a guest apartment for weary and wounded soldiers of the Cross. In this apartment is a bookshelf with many books, including the books by Catherine Marshall that I mentioned earlier. You are welcome to make use of this special guest apartment that has been affectionately called “The Upper Room - The Rocking Chair of God’s Heart.” Many of our guests have found healing for both their body and soul in that place. But do not come with the expectation to be healed; come with the expectation of sitting in Father-God’s lap and hearing His heartbeat as you nestle in His arms. Some have even smelled the fragrance of His presence.
I am retyping this letter five years after it was first printed. I am doing this so that we can share it via e-mail with you. The presence of God has grown sweeter and sweeter in my life and our home since God showed me the idol in my life. Our conversations have shifted from mortgages and finances to more eternal subjects. It is time for me to give glory to God for the way He has provided for us during these past five years. We have not missed a single mortgage payment. We have made each payment on time and have even been able to pay additional amounts on our principal. But above all, we know that our Lord is pleased that today He is much more the focus of our thoughts and conversation. We long for His presence much more than for His presents.
My prayer is that these words will bring healing, peace and freedom for all who read them. I believe that Jesus intends for us to explore all available alternatives for healing and wholeness. But it is only after we come to that point of surrender when we can truly say to Jesus, “I want You more than my healing,” that we will experience our permanent and complete healing.
Serving Jesus as Stretcher Bearer, Peter D. Laue