“The surgery went well! Your husband is resting in the recovery room.” This message, conveyed by the cardiac surgeon, was the outcome Doris had been anxiously seeking from the Lord as she prayed in the family waiting room of the Hamilton General Hospital. “How many bypasses did he have?” she asked. “Six”.
It had come so unexpectedly. It seemed unthinkable that he, of all people, would require open heart bypass surgery. She had known him her entire life. He had run marathons. He had been a competitive swimmer. He competed in track and field. Not only in his youth, but throughout his life he had maintained a physically active lifestyle. Even last year, the year before his surgery he had bicycled more than 3000 kilometers, and each time he went out, it seemed that it was a new race.
“Dr. Chu,” she said “You have given my husband a new heart. Will the new heart love me as much as the old one did?”
Often, when I went on a bike ride, Doris would ask, “Do you have identification? Do you have your cellphone? You could be lying in a ditch somewhere, with a heart attack, and I wouldn’t know where you are.” “Doris,” I assured. “We all must die some day. But one thing I can say, I will not die of a heart attack.” Of course, that was foolish talk, for we do not know what tomorrow will be (James 4:14).
And then in September 2018 towards the end of a typical ride, it felt as if an ice pack had been placed on my chest. It was merely a feeling of discomfort, which recurred in subsequent bike rides. In May, the following year, an angiogram revealed multiple blockages – 30 % up to 100%. And nine months following the initial episode, I was having open heart surgery. Never has the privilege of being a child of God become so vivid to me as during this time of crisis.
First, we are not alone. Alone, and isolated is one of the great lamentations in the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike such feelings I felt surrounded, supported, and not alone. In a telephone conversation with a relative, I hear, “We are praying for you every single day.” Among the many emails I received, one arrived shortly before the surgery, “We are praying!” Just three simple words! Nothing more. Yet what a message of comfort and support! “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Not alone.
A few days before the surgery, following a church service, a sister in Christ, visibly moved, shared with me her struggle with God. In her right hand, she held a quivering sheet of paper. On it were listed eight reasons why God can not take me home yet. Just as king Hezekiah had done when he spread out before God the threatening letter from the King of Assyria (2 Kings 19:14), she had spread out this sheet before God, praying for a successful surgery and recovery. What a privilege to be a member of the family of God, and I include in that my own family who fasted and prayed. “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (Philippians 1:3). Not alone.
Comforting as it is to be supported by the family of God, of even greater comfort is God’s assurance that he is with us in the midst of life’s hottest fires. He so vividly demonstrated this by informing us, in Daniel Chapter 3, of three young Israeli men living in exile under King Nebuchadnezzar. The king had given the order that all should fall down and worship the golden image he had created, but they refused to worship any god but the one true God. They were bound and thrown into the fiery furnace. When King Nebuchadnezzar peered into the fire, he was astonished and leapt to his feet saying, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? Look! I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” Not alone.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). Not alone.
Above the other experiences in my time of crisis, inner peace stands out. This peace is not something we earn. It is a gift of God. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). Peace.
At a church convention in Aylmer, chatting at lunch at the table with a dear friend, he wanted to know, “What thoughts go through your mind as you consider that in two days you are having open heart surgery?”
“I am totally at peace in God’s will” (Philippians 4:6,7). “I am 80. I have had a good and long life. If I were to die now, I would see Jesus, my Savior. I would be reunited with my parents, and all those friends who have persevered and gone before. For many years now, my prayer has been that God would call me home before I would become a burden to anyone. And, so it would be. Can you imagine a more favorable outcome?”
Tapping me on the shoulder, Doris protested, shaking her head. “I don’t like it when you talk this way.” Ashamed of my selfish perspective I added, “I believe God will add a few more years to my life, and that the surgery will go well. But, no matter what happens, in life or in death, I am in God’s care. And God is good! Are we, as God’s children, even able to fully comprehend the privilege of being a child of God?” I continued.
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1). The birth certificate is received – “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:19). Truly, this is the genesis of our peace. Peace with God. The outcome – “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). Peace.
To know God is to love Him. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28). And “to love Him is to keep his commandments” (John 14:15). And, “if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God” (1 John 3:21). Peace.
How could I have been so wrong?
Two controllable factors for good health are exercise and a healthy diet. I adhered diligently to both. The seat of my strength and my stamina was my heart. Had not I taken the stairs (as was my habit) rather than the elevator to the 4th floor office of my cardiologist? Never did my heart fail me, nor would it ever fail me, so I thought. And then 2 days later, the angiogram. How could I have been so wrong?
Spiritually, the Bible uses the metaphor of man’s heart as the seat of his thoughts and actions, and warns, “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 4:7). It warns of lip service to God – “These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me” (Mark 7:6). It reveals true service to God – “you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30,31).
Jesus, speaking of judgment, warns that there will be many who will have deceived themselves with the condition of their hearts. “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:22,23). How could they have been so wrong?
King David requested an angiogram from the Lord. “Search me O God and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23,24). There will never be a better time than now to ask the Lord for an angiogram. And if that should highlight issues with your heart, the Great Physician declares Himself ready: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
With heartfelt gratitude:
A new Heart.