When we don't know how to pray

“We know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us ... according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26)

In 1964 a major crisis occurred in my personal life. I could not understand why I kept losing my voice. It was particularly inconvenient, since at that time I was still pastor of a congregation in Dewsbury in Yorkshire, where I had been since the end of 1959. My doctor tried various medicines, without any obvious success. At last he sent me to see a specialist at the local hospital. I went along at the appointed time with no real concern, even perhaps with a vague hope that he might recommend a long rest. So it came as a rather sudden shock when, after a careful examination, he told me there was a growth on the vocal cord, probably malignant, and I must have an immediate operation.

Although he stressed that the matter was urgent, I asked for time to consider. He agreed to give me a month. I went away, still dazed with the suddenness of the whole thing, and it was only when I got home and talked it over with my wife that I realised the full seriousness of what I had been told.

I believed God could heal, but would He?

Over the next month I spent hours in prayer, asking God to heal me by a miracle. I believed He could, and indeed I had known instances of miraculous healings. I knew that, if He wanted to, He could remove the growth so that an operation would prove unnecessary. Towards the end of the time I felt so confident I was healed that I asked for a further appointment with the specialist to confirm the fact. My doctor, a sceptic, agreed, on condition that if the growth was still here, as he firmly believed it would be, I would offer no further objection to an immediate operation; for, as he rightly pointed out, delay could be serious and would only have necessitated a larger section of the vocal cord being removed.

Confidently I went back to the hospital. To my dismay, the specialist only confirmed that the growth was increasing in size, and that immediate attention was necessary. Unable to accept the inevitable, I begged for yet more time, until somewhat reluctantly he agreed to a further month; but this was to be final, no further delay was possible.

Now I knew I was involved in a crucial battle. There was the increasing possibility that an operation might take away the whole of the vocal cord, leaving me with no voice whatsoever. This, for a preacher, was unthinkable. I began to pray more urgently.

But another factor kept intruding itself, the tours to the Holy Land, which had started in a small way, were beginning to attract more business than I could cope with in addition to my duties as pastor of a church. The time was fast approaching when I would have to make a final decision. Either I must cut down on my pastoral work and concentrate on my growing interest in the lands of the Bible and the prophetical implications of modern events in Israel. Or I must put an end to this division of loyalties and give my whole time to my church duties. I channelled prayer desperately in both directions, in an effort to resolve what had suddenly become a very immediate and pressing crisis.

Is it Your Will to heal me?

My prayers for a miracle crystallised into a set pattern. I found myself constantly saying the same thing: “O God, I know You can heal, because of all the evidence of Your Word, as well as the other miracles which I have seen with my own eyes. But ... the problem is ... You can ... if You want to ... Is it really Your will to heal me?” At the same time, I was asking Him to show me what He wanted me to do with regard to the future.

Eventually I took what seemed a rather dangerous and difficult decision. But strangely, I felt a sense of real peace in my mind when I had done it. I now prayed clearly and positively: “O God, show me Your definite will and plan for my life in this way. If You want me to stay in charge of the church, which would seem to most people the obvious thing, then do not heal me, let things take their natural course and let me face the operation and all that may follow without any intervention. But if You definitely want me to give up the security of my pastorate and take up as a full-time occupation this interest in the Holy Land, with all its uncertainties, then I ask You to intervene and interrupt the natural course of this disease by completely and miraculously healing me.”

Now there was only one question instead of two. My problems had combined and consolidated, so that my prayers became simply: “Tell me if it is Your will to intervene and heal me or not.” It was a cold wintry day in December when I reached this point, a Wednesday as I recall. There was still no answer, but the final appointment with the specialist was the next day. Five o’clock in the evening found me on my knees in my bedroom. If only I could know positively what the will of God was, I felt, I would be satisfied. In desperation I turned to a promise box, pulled out one of the little slips of paper and read Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good to those who love God.” “No,” I cried, “that isn’t what I want, I know that already. All I am asking for is a positive yes or no.” I picked up my Bible and looked up the verse in its context. I read from verse 26, “We know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us ... according to the will of God.” That was it! It came with certainty to me that God had said yes. I would be healed by a miracle.

God said “Yes!”

The next morning, I looked forward eagerly to my appointment with the specialist. He put various instruments down my throat, examined me for a long time and very carefully, before turning to me with a serious expression. “I can’t understand what has happened,” he said, “but the growth has gone. There is a scar there as though it had been cut out with a knife. Well, your faith has been vindicated.”

I could hardly wait to get home to tell Zena, I was so excited, but first I called in to tell my own doctor, who had been so sceptical throughout about miracles and answers to prayer. His jaw dropped in astonishment, he was completely at a loss for words.

Now that God had intervened to reverse the natural progression of this growth and heal me, I knew beyond doubt that it was also His will that I should concentrate on my tours to the Holy Land. Zena and I formed a travel company, which we called Crusader Tours, and I gave up the church pastorate to concentrate on this new and exciting work to which God had called me.

‘Hosanna in the Highest’ used by kind permission of www.vinesong.com