We know God is listening when we receive answers to our big prayers, those major requests that only His providence can make happen. But there is sometimes greater joy in His unexpected, but on-purpose responses to minor incidents in our lives. These are the ones I especially cherish and fondly re-visit in thankful meditation when I want to recall the mindfulness of my Heavenly Father.
I’d like to share one of these with you to remind us both that God is listening—so pay close attention for His “My-eye-is-on-the-sparrow-so-you-know-I’m-watching-over-you” answers!
The year 2003 was the second worse year of my life in every realm: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I’ve had episodes which were equally severe in one or two of these areas, but not in all three at the same time! I will not elaborate on all the events of that year that were so traumatic, but at the midpoint, July 13, on a bright Sunday afternoon, my only sibling and younger brother Chochie, without warning, suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of only 42.
There are no words to describe the aftermath of shock, disbelief, grief, and despair that gripped my family. I fought hard to stay strong, because I saw my usually rock solid parents buckling under their load of sorrow. This affected everything from the family to the church to the ministry. But life demands that we carry on, and our faith in God alone allowed us to meet that demand.
Within weeks of his burial, we were into our annual Campmeeting, and we were refreshed and ministered to by God’s anointing on us to minister to His people. It was more than a welcome distraction from the pain. But within days of Campmeeting, the chronic pain in my spine, which I have been dealing with for years, became acutely worse. I pressed on until one day I could not get up without excruciating pain. I was knocked off my feet, and I had no more strength to draw on. Unable to even go to church, I became despondent and desperate for answers. I felt myself sinking into a pit of pain and anxiety, and I knew I had to have help. I was too weak to pray for myself; yet I knew there was no other way out.
As is my custom, I surrounded myself with God’s Word: Reading, listening to preaching, teaching, singing, testimonies, and judiciously watching Christian programming that ministered to my faith—not my fancy. I shut out and shut off everything that was not a positive spiritual booster, and I put out a call for the saints to come and pray for me. Everyday someone came to minister to me. For weeks they came everyday, and for months at least three times a week. Often I would preach to them, and this served to bolster my own faith and keep my preaching sword honed.
Gradually, my strength increased, as I spoke God’s Word each day claiming His promises: “In my weakness, His strength is made perfect” (1Cor. 12:9). “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13), and others.
I have several Bibles, but the one I love most rested permanently on my kitchen table where I read it first thing in the morning and throughout the day. (To move it would have risked much of it falling to the floor with its worn, taped-up pages.) I have made my own notations in its margins until it is covered with references from page to page. It’s a sort of “chain reference” system that allows me to find what I need on numerous topics that are particularly special to me. Naturally, I have marked dozens of Scriptures having to do with God’s strength, especially in the Book of Psalms. One of my favorites is Psalm 27:1: “…The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
I also keep a small slimline Bible in my bathroom. One day in November 2003, just before Thanksgiving, I was taking a quick Scripture break with this Bible when I came across Psalm 71:16:
“I will go in the strength of the LORD God. I will make mention of thine righteousness, even of thine only.”
These words leapt off of the page and into my heart as I read them aloud several times. I was battling depression as the holiday neared and my birthday which fell on Thanksgiving that year. This verse flooded my soul with much needed strength!
I couldn’t believe that I had never noticed this verse before; although I have read Psalms through many times. I couldn’t wait to go mark it in my precious, raggedy kitchen-table Bible. But when I turned to Psalm 71, verse 16 wasn’t there! No wonder I hadn’t underlined it before!
Then I noticed that where it should have been, verse 5 was, right between verses 15 and 17. No, I thought of that too: It was not where verse 5 should have been either. Instead, there were two verse 6’s, and one of them belonged in Psalm 69!
Carefully, I went back and forth from the two Bibles and made more notes in my “holey” Bible to guide me to the right sequences, but still no verse 16 was found. The only thing left to do was to write it in by hand, because it was just too special to leave out! In the following days, I constantly spoke this verse from the time I drug myself out of bed each morning.
Two days before Thanksgiving, my neighbor’s son knocked on my door to deliver a letter to me that had been addressed to their house number by mistake. (Someone didn’t want me to get an answer from God!) When I opened it, there was a lovely card from our church’s Shut-In-Committee (SIC), which they thoughtfully sent knowing that it was the first Thanksgiving without my brother.
But it wasn’t the brightly colored flowers on the front or the cheery caption “To Encourage You,” that caught my attention! You guessed it: Right under it, in all caps was the verse:
“I WILL GO IN THE STRENGTH OF THE LORD GOD…” PSALM 71:16
Thanksgiving we went to my parents’ for dinner, and I saw that they had also received a card from the SIC. But it was not the same text.
That was a word in due season for me!